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Heart Health

Understanding What Affects Heart Health

Here’s what you need to know to help keep your heart healthy:



Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the cells of your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Though your body makes cholesterol, it’s also found in some of the foods you eat. Saturated fats, trans fats, fatty meats, egg yolks, and dairy increase the amount of cholesterol in your cells. Too much cholesterol will make the cells stick to the arteries in your heart and elsewhere in your body. This can cause your blood vessels to narrow, making it harder for blood to flow through the arteries, which may result in a heart attack.

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults ages 20 and older have a blood test to check their cholesterol levels every four to six years. Results can be affected by your diet, age, alcohol use, medical history, pregnancy, and medication. Here is what your test results could mean:

  • Less than 200 mg/dL: Low risk for heart disease
  • 200 mg/dL to 239 mg/dL: Some risk for heart disease
  • 240 mg/dL or higher: High risk for heart disease

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. When you have high blood pressure, your heart works harder to pump blood to the body. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most common risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Testing your blood pressure includes using a manual or digital blood pressure monitor. Here is what your test results could mean:

  • Less than 120 over 80 (120/80): Normal
  • 120-139 over 80-89: Pre-hypertension
  • 140-159 over 90-99: Stage 1 high blood pressure
  • 160 and above over 100 and above: Stage 2 high blood pressure
  • 150 and above over 90 and above: High blood pressure in people over age 60

Family history, age, kidney disease, and adrenal or thyroid disorders can affect blood pressure, but the exact cause of high blood pressure is unknown. Ways to reduce the risk of high blood pressure include making lifestyle changes involving diet, exercise, weight, stress management, and medication.

El Camino Hospital offers free blood pressure screenings every Friday from 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the Health Library & Resource Center on its Mountain View Campus.

Learn more about blood pressure.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease, and the American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven controllable risk factors of heart disease.

Those with diabetes are at risk for heart disease for several reasons, including high cholesterol and blood pressure. Other factors include obesity and lack of physical activity.

  • Obesity: Weight strongly influences insulin resistance in the body, contributing to heart disease. Those who are obese are also susceptible to high blood pressure. People are considered obese if their weight is at least 20 percent higher than it should be or if their BMI is over 29. People generally become obese by consuming too many calories, living a sedentary lifestyle, not sleeping enough, having a poor metabolism, taking certain medications, or having certain genetics.
  • Lack of physical activity: Being physically inactive is a major risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week, 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week, or a combination of the two. Good physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, helps blood pressure, and keeps plaque from building in your arteries.

The Norma Melchor Heart and Vascular Institute at El Camino Hospital offers advanced heart and vascular care, from prevention to diagnosis, to treatment and rehabilitation. The institute has earned awards and professional accreditations, but its greatest accomplishment is helping people achieve optimal health.

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