Risk factors for heart disease

An ounce of prevention

The major risk factors for heart disease and circulatory problems include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, high blood cholesterol levels, and a family history of the disease. There are steps you can take to reduce many of these risks.

• Risk factors for heart disease:  Stop smoking. Smoking constricts the arteries, raises blood pressure, increases arterial tearing, speeds atherosclerosis, and reduces oxygen levels in the blood. Smokers have two to four times the risk of heart attack as nonsmokers, and their heart attacks are more likely to be fatal. But there is hope: A decade after quitting, a former pack-a-day smoker has almost the same heart attack risk as if he or she had never smoked.

•  Risk factors for heart disease Exercise to keep your arteries strong and flexible. Aerobic exercise helps prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering LDL cholesterol levels and raising HDL cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, keeping weight down, burning fat, lowering blood-sugar levels, and boosting relaxation. People who exercise regularly are about half as likely as sedentary people to have a heart attack.

•Risk factors for heart disease:  Maintain a healthy body weight. Excess body fat increases blood pressure and adds stress to the heart and circulatory system. People who maintain their ideal body weight are 35 to 55 percent less likely to have a heart attack than those who are obese.

• Risk factors for heart disease:  Become more aware of your anger, anxiety, and fear. These negative emotions trigger the release of adrenaline and increase blood pressure. These hormones also encourage the cells to release fat and cholesterol into the bloodstream.

•   Review all prescription and over-the-counter medicines with your doctor.

•   Lower your blood cholesterol, if necessary.

•   Keep your blood pressure out of the danger zone.

•   Know your family history. Anyone whose parents or other close relatives have suffered a heart attack or stroke before age fifty-five should make a special effort to minimize their other risk factors.

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