Your Heart Health is Up to You
Heart Disease Risk Factors:
Risk factors you can't change:
- Age - over age 45 for men,
over age 55 for women
- Family history of heart disease
Risk factors you can change:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute -- a division of the National Institutes of Health -- has established the factors that increase your risk of developing heart disease. Each individual factor contributes to your risk, and the more factors you have, the greater your risk will be.
A variety of factors contribute to your risk of developing heart disease. Some of these factors are uncontrollable. People with a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop it, as are all people as they get older. Or you may suffer from a congenital heart defect.
The good news is, we can control most heart disease risk factors, and there is a domino effect. The effort we put into reducing one risk factor will have a positive impact on other risk factors -- even the ones we can't change. For instance, lowering your cholesterol can also reduce your blood pressure, weight, and diabetes risk. And since smoking, obesity, or physical inactivity may be common among several family members, controlling those risk factors may help reduce the impact that family history has on one's health.
A Closer Look
Smoking: Of the more than 430,000 smoking-related deaths reported each year between 1997 and 2001, nearly 35 percent were due to heart disease. Compared with nonsmokers, cigarette smokers are up to four times more likely to develop congestive heart disease, twice as likely to have a stroke, and ten times more likely to suffer from peripheral vascular disease. Smoking reduces the average lifespan by more than 13 years in men and nearly 15 years in women.
Cholesterol: Guidelines recommend that adults consume no more than 200 mg of cholesterol each day. The average American adult diet contains 265 mg, with women averaging 225 mg and men a whopping 307 mg -- more than half again as much as the recommended amount. Approximately 48 percent of American adults have high cholesterol. A population-wide reduction in cholesterol of just 10 percent would reduce the incidence of congestive heart disease by 30 percent.
Overweight/Obesity: Being overweight or obese is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. In the year 2000, there were 112,000 excess deaths due to obesity. So-called babyfat doesn't necessarily go away. In the United States, 14 percent of children aged two to five and up to 17 percent of adolescents are overweight, and overweight adolescents have an 80 percent chance of becoming overweight adults. Sixty-six percent of American adults are overweight, of whom nearly half qualify as obese.
Physical Inactivity: Physical inactivity increases your risk of heart disease just as much as smoking, high blood cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Among high-school aged Americans, only 44 percent of males and 28 percent of females met recommendations for physical activity. Only about 31 percent of adults regularly pursue leisure-time physical activities, and by age 75, only 15 percent of people undertake any physical activity at all.