Heart Healthy For The Holidays:
How To Reduce Your Risk Of A Heart Attack
What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Attack?
The good news is that according to American Heart Association (AHA) estimates,
half of all heart attacks are linked to known risk factors that can be reduced
or eliminated.† The bad news is that most Americans don't implement these steps.††
The first 9 risk factors listed are called "major risk factors"; and all but
age and family history are modifiable.
Major risk factors for heart attack:
- Age itself, for men; age and menopausal/HRT status
for women.† The risk of heart attacks and heart disease increases directly
with age.† In general, women begin having heart disease 10 years later than
men, due to the protective effects of estrogen before menopause. While
you can't change your menopausal age, you can change the estrogen deficiency
responsible for menopause. Data show that HRT can cut the risk of heart disease
in half and can reduce the risk of heart attack by 40%! In menopausal women,
estrogen lowers LDL by 15% and raises HDL by 20-25%.† It may increase triglyceride
levels, however.† Estrogen also keeps the arterial walls flexible and elastic,
which improves blood pressure and blood flow.†
- Family history of CAD or previous personal history
of heart attack.† You are at increased risk if you have a first degree family
member who has had a "cardiac event":† a heart attack, open-heart surgery, angioplasty,
etc.† You are at greatly increased risk for a second heart attack once you have
already had your first.
- Smoking.† Just stop.† If you need data, consider this. Among pre and
post-menopausal women, smoking triples the risk of heart attack.† Even
women who smoke only 5 cigarettes per day or less have more than a doubled
risk of heart attack compared to non-smokers!† Cigarette smoking also lowers
the age for initial heart attack more for women than for men.† Birth control
pills further increase the risk for heart attack in smokers, but not in nonsmokers†
The good news is that women who quit smoking can decrease their risk of cardiovascular
causes of death by 24% within 2 years.† Former smokers may approach the coronary
risk level of a nonsmoker within 3-5 years of quitting.
- *Elevated cholesterol, especially LDL and triglycerides.
The goal is to get your "good cholesterol" (HDL) as high as possible and to
reduce your triglycerides and "bad cholesterol" (LDL) to as low as possible.†
- *Control your blood pressure
- Exercise.† Studies show that regular exercise
can reduce your risk of heart attack by 40%!† Physical inactivity is associated
with a doubled risk for cardiovascular events.† Aerobic exercise increases
your circulation, strengthens your heart, inhibits blood clotting, helps with
weight control, lowers blood pressure, helps control blood-sugar levels, and
increases your "good cholesterol" (HDL).
- *Control blood sugar.† Diabetes is a major risk
factor for heart disease, especially in women.† The build-up of blood sugar
can damage the walls of blood vessels.† Having diabetes also greatly increases
one's risk of a "silent" heart attack.
- *Being overweight.† The more overweight you are,
the more demand you put on your heart.† In addition, obesity increases the risks
of developing or worsening high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol problems.††
Central adiposity (having the "apple shape" rather than the "pear shape") further
increases your risk of heart disease significantly.
- *Stress.† Stress and repressed anger have been
shown to increase blood pressure and heart rate, which can trigger a heart attack.†
Exercise, relaxation, meditation, yoga, religious activities, and massage can
help alleviate stress; psychotherapy may be indicated for those with hostility,
repressed anger, and unhealthy or dangerous behaviors such as road rage.
A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that when women became mothers, their risk for heart disease actually did increase, but it was attributed to the fact that mothers did fewer leisure-time physical activities, thus making them more sedentary.