Last time I talked about the consequences of atherosclerosis. Today I will be talking about the risk factors of heart disease. Some of these are unchangeable, but I can give you tips on how to improve the others.
The first three risk factors are those you cannot change, but still should be aware of.
1. Age: As you get older, arteries are at a higher risk of narrowing and becoming damage, which increase risk for heart disease.
2. Gender: Men are generally at a higher risk for heart disease than women, but women have the same risk after menopause.
3. Family history: Family history increases risk for heart disease. This is especially true if a parent developed heart disease at a young age; this would be before 65 for woman and before 55 for men.
These next risk factors are those that can be changed and improved.
1. Smoking: Smoking significantly increases the risk for heart disease. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and carbon monoixde damages the inner lining, which causes atherosclerosis. Those who smoke are advised to quit smoking, but if not possible, to reduce amount.
2. Blood pressure: High blood pressure causes the hardening and thickening of artery walls. Daily exercise, reducing sodium intake, and reducing saturated fat intake can all help lower blood pressure. Medications can and should be used to reduce blood pressure if exercise and nutrition is not enough
3. Cholesterol levels: High LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol creates a higher risk for plaque formation and atherosclerosis. A diet lower in saturated fats, higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and high in dietary fiber can reduce total cholesterol and help raise HDL cholesterol.
4. Activity level: Being inactive is associated with heart disease and risk factors of heart disease. Increasing activity can significantly decrease other risk factors for heart disease. 30-60 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise per day has been shown to reduce risk factors. These exercises can include: walking, running, biking, hiking, dancing, playing sports like basketball and soccer, and strength training.
5. Obesity: Excess body fat worsens risk factors of heart disease. Exercise and a balanced diet are the most effective strategies for weight loss.
6. Diet: Poor diet is a huge risk factor for heart disease as it can increase many other risk factors for heart disease. A well balanced diet, but also a diet rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and dietary fiber shows the best results for lower heart disease risk. This a diet recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and many health professionals: