Heart Disease Risk

Heart Disease Risk

Your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body mass index (BMI) and fasting blood glucose offer an accurate glimpse of overall heart health. By comparing your numbers with healthy target ranges, you can evaluate your heart disease risk and take steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

BMI - Calculated using your height and weight, BMI helps you determine how much body fat you carry. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 indicates a healthy weight. A person is considered overweight if his or her BMI is 25 or higher and obese if BMI is 30 or higher.

Cholesterol - Cholesterol comes in two forms: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). While HDL helps keep your heart healthy, LDL can contribute to blockages. Adults age 20 and older should have a cholesterol screening at least every five years. Total cholesterol levels should be lower than 200 mg/dL, triglycerides lower than 150 mg/dL, LDL cholesterol levels lower than 100 mg/dL, and HDL cholesterol levels higher than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women, according to the American Heart Association.

Blood Pressure - When blood pressure is higher than it should be, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, which can damage your arteries. Normal, healthy blood pressure is defined as a reading of 120/80. A blood pressure reading of 140/90 indicates hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Fasting Blood Glucose - Healthy adults ages 45 and older should have a fasting blood glucose screening at least every three years. A healthy fasting blood glucose level falls between 70 and 100 mg/dL.

Tips to Overcome Weight-Loss Challenges

Weight influences nearly every aspect of cardiovascular health. Weight loss can help reduce your blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes risk, but staying motivated is often a challenge. If you’ve hit a roadblock on your journey to a healthy weight, consider these tips.

  • Get enough sleep. When you are sleep deprived, you’re more likely to overeat and munch on unhealthy snacks, which can sabotage an otherwise healthy eating plan. Strive for eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Set attainable goals. Running a 5k or losing 30 pounds are great long-term goals, but neither is achievable overnight. To avoid getting discouraged, start small. Aim to lose 10 pounds initially or to walk for 30 minutes every day.
  • Limit temptation. Buy fruit and other healthy snacks and leave potato chips and ice cream on the grocery store shelves to make daily food choices easier.

Reducing risk of heart attack

Imagine enjoying lunch with three girlfriends. As you talk and laugh, the thought that heart disease will claim the life of one person at the table is the farthest thing from your mind, but that’s what current data indicates: One in four American women will die of heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Most heart disease risk factors come down to one thing — how you choose to live. Use these tips to stop the stresses and obligations of life from driving your health and start using healthier choices to fuel your life.

  • Don’t skimp on sleep. Inadequate or low-quality sleep can put you at risk for high blood pressure. Aim to get six to eight hours of sleep each night and seek medical help for suspected sleep disorders. Having Obstructive Sleep Apnea (restless sleep, dry mouth in morning, snoring) greatly increases the risk of getting a heart attack.  This can be fixed by getting a sleep study and using a CPAP/BIPAP machine for the most comfortable sleep in a long time.  
  • Get diabetes under control. Diabetes is a particularly serious heart disease risk factor. If you have diabetes, follow your management plan to keep blood glucose levels within your target range.
  • Take a deep breath. Stress can drive you to do things that are bad for your heart, such as binge on fatty foods or skip exercising in favor of working late. Devote at least 15 minutes daily to an activity that allows you to relax, reflect and refocus.
  • Watch your weight. Speak with your doctor to determine your healthiest weight and how to achieve it. Don’t jump feet first into dieting and exercise; that approach rarely succeeds. Instead, start by taking 15-minute walks after lunch and dinner and reducing your number of fast-food meals by at least half this week. Build on your successes by incorporating more healthful behaviors each week.

Family history is a heart disease risk factor you can’t control, but ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to prevention. If you know your grandmother had a stroke at age 67 and your mother has high blood pressure, you can get a step ahead by discussing your heart disease risk with your doctor and crafting a strategy to reduce it.

Don’t wait until the next holiday gathering. The next time you call your parents, siblings or grandparents, ask about any cardiac events or vascular conditions they’ve had and how old they were when the problems occurred.

Taking charge of your heart health begins with understanding your heart disease risk. To learn your numbers, speak with your doctor.