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Dealing With Heart Disease Risk Factors

Sensational Seniors

Many years of research have provided vital insights into why heart disease begins, and more importantly, how its risk factors can be minimized and overcome.

Some risk factors are beyond our control, while others involve relatively simple lifestyle changes that can make substantial strides in improving our overall health. To achieve a healthier way of life, you should begin to differentiate between the areas of your life in which you can make changes, as compared to those factors you can't change.

Risk Factors You Can't Change

Male and Female Symbols Your parents. They gave you a gene pool that may have included a predisposition to a coronary artery disease. Did either of your parents or any siblings have a heart attack before 55 years of age (male) or 65 years (female)? If so, you may have inherited these genes.

Your age. A lot of people have tried but it isn't possible to become chronologically younger! The older we get, the more likely we are to have less elastic, fat clogged arteries.

Your gender. Men and women alike develop coronary artery disease. It remains the biggest cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Women seem to develop symptomatic heart disease (heart attack, angina, etc.) 10 to 15 years later than men. The average age at which men begin to show symptoms of heart disease is 50 to 60, while for women the average age is 60 to 70 years.

Women appear to be protected by hormones against developing coronary heart disease prior to menopause, but after menopause quickly catch up with men.

Risk Factors You Can Change

Cholesterol LDLs and HDLs Control Your Cholesterol. A fat-like, waxy substance called cholesterol is found in animal tissue. It is present in foods from animal sources such as whole milk dairy products, meat, fish, poultry, and egg yolks. An estimated 400 to 500 milligrams or more of cholesterol is ingested each day in the average American diet. Cholesterol is also produced in your body - primarily your liver - in varying amounts, usually about 1,000 milligrams a day.

Cholesterol is essential for producing new cells and manufacturing certain hormones. There are basically two major types, High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) and Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL). It is believed that HDL picks up cholesterol and brings it back to the liver for reprocessing. Some researchers believe that HDL may also remove excess cholesterol from fat gorged cells, possibly even those in artery walls. Because HDL clears cholesterol out of the system and high levels of it are associated with decreased risk of heart disease, HDL is often called "good cholesterol". LDL, on the other hand, is considered "bad" because it deposits itself along artery walls as it travels from the liver to the cells of the body.

Through a combination of exercise and improved eating habits, you can actually lower your cholesterol level. Your doctor may advise you to have periodic cholesterol testing to keep track of the progress you are making.

Lower Your Blood Pressure.

The measurement of the force of your blood against your artery walls as your heart contracts (beats) and relaxes is your blood pressure. If you have "high blood pressure", it means that your heart has to work harder to deal with the extra pressure of the blood coursing through your arteries. In addition to making your heart work harder, high blood pressure may cause roughness in the lining of the arteries that traps cholesterol and fats as they pass by. This causes a build-up of fatty plaques. The top number in your blood pressure reading is the measurement made when your heart is contracting, the systolic pressure. The bottom number in your blood pressure reading is recorded when your heart is at rest, the diastolic pressure.

You can help lower your blood pressure by following your prescribed treatment and taking your medicine according to direction. Because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, many people stop taking medications that keep pressure in check. A low salt diet is prescribed to reduce the amount of fluid the heart has to pump.

Weight loss is also a big factor in reducing blood pressure because the fewer pounds you carry around the less your heart has to work to pump blood through your body. Keeping track of blood pressure is easy with a home blood pressure monitor.

Lose Weight.

Many of us are over weight. It is estimated that over 46 million Americans are more than 20 percent over their desireable weight. Extra pounds make the heart work harder. Just think how you felt when you carried a heavy package upstairs. Being overweight not only makes your heart pump harder, it can raise blood pressure, constrict your lungs, and make your body require more oxygen.

Control Diabetes.

About 17 million people in the United States have diabetes and the number keeps growing. Approximately 10 percent have Type 1, that is, they are insulin dependent. Their bodies produce little or no insulin. Insulin regulates the utilization of glucose in the body.

Approximately 90 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2. They are non-insulin dependent. Their bodies produce insulin but do not use it properly. People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease. If you have either Type 1 or 2 diabetes, your diet, exercise and weight management play an extremely important part in preventing complications. Type 2 diabetes may be managed or controlled by diet, weight loss and exercise. See also: Diabetic Recipes.


Exercising for a Healthy Heart Regular exercise prescribed for you by your physician and cardiac rehabilitation specialists is one of the most powerful ways to improve your heart function. The American Heart Association regards physical inactivity as the fourth major risk factor for coronary artery disease.

Regular exercise will increase your endurance, help to lower your blood pressure, control your weight and will give you an overall sense of well-being. It may also increase the "good" HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides in your blood stream. The type of exercise will depend upon your physical condition. Remember that even exercises done in bed or in a chair can be beneficial. As you regain your strength, your exercise routine will be increased. Visit our Exercise Guidelines for Seniors.

Stay Calm.

Researchers performed a meta-analysis of nine studies that were conducted between 1966 and 2013, which included more than 4,500 cases of heart attacks, 462 cases of acute coronary syndrome, in excess of 800 stroke cases and more than 300 cases of heart arrhythmia. The researchers found: Within two hours of an angry outburst, a person's risk of heart attack or acute coronary syndrome increased nearly five-fold, their risk of stroke rose nearly four-fold and their risk of a dangerous heart rhythm disorder called ventricular arrhythmia also rose.

Hostility: Number One Predictor of Heart Disease. A study in Health Psychology found that coronary artery disease is more common in people with high levels of hostility than in those with traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI), high waist-to-hip ratio, alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking. yoga, meditation and hostility management therapy are suggested avenues to explore if you feel your hostility is affecting your health and well-being.

Follow your doctor's instructions for any and all medications!

Know Your Family History?

If your mother or sister developed heart disease before age 65, or your father or brother developed it before age 55, this doubles your own risk of developing heart disease. In this case, you should be extra vigilant about other risk factors -- including poor diet, inactivity and elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, having a first-degree relative who developed heart disease after age 70 is a much less important risk factor. It is important to note that genes are not destiny. In a long-term study of more than 100,000, 80 percent of heart attacks were found to be preventable with changes in lifestyle.


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