Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women — responsible for one in four deaths — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) reports that 34% of early heart disease deaths could be prevented with lifestyle changes. As most of us know, poor diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco use are the biggest lifestyle risk factors for heart disease, so addressing these key habits are the first step in reducing your risk. But there are other risk factors that shouldn’t be ignored.
Some risk factors, such as genetics, age, and race can’t be controlled, so maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels should be a priority for everyone. This is especially important since there are typically no symptoms associated with elevated levels of these markers. Making important lifestyle modifications may bring your levels into a more normal range, but you may still need to work with your doctor to determine the appropriate medication, treatments or screenings you need to stay healthy. Remember that El Camino Hospital in Mountain View offers free blood pressure screenings, and that’s an easy step you can take to monitor one key heart health indicator.
Other risk factors for heart disease that should also be addressed:
- People with a sleep debt are at a higher risk for developing a heart condition— regardless of age, weight, smoking, and exercise habits. Research shows that lack of sleep can disrupt biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. Having a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea greatly increases this risk because it lowers oxygen levels in the blood — disrupting breathing and heart rate. If you snore, or frequently feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, speak to your doctor to see if sleep apnea or another sleep disorder is the culprit. If insomnia prevents you from getting at least seven hours of sleep most nights, talk to your doctor about possible causes and treatments before turning to sleeping pills.
- Unrelieved, ongoing stress is another often ignored but critical risk factor. Constant or excessive stress can actually increase your risk of heart disease. Make sure you schedule time every day to relax and take care of yourself.
- Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to increased triglycerides, blood pressure, and weight. It can also cause irregular heartbeats. If you do drink, make sure to limit consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men, and one for women.
- Finally, sitting for long periods of time, even with regular exercise, can still increase the risk of heart disease. Make sure to get up and move every 30 minutes or so throughout the day.
No matter what risk factors you may have, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your heart health and reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Remember, though, that heart disease can affect anybody, and a heart attack can strike without warning even when there are no known risk factors. If you suspect that someone is having a heart attack, always call 911 immediately. Learn more about heart attack symptoms.
This article first appeared in the February 2018 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.