Heart Health  |  Published February 15, 2023

Start With Your Heart: Reducing the Risks of Heart Disease

Know the things that can make every beat of your heart a strong and healthy one.

Did you know your heart beats more than 36 million times a year? Each time a healthy heart beats, it uses the force it would take you to squash a tennis ball. During American Heart Month, we want you to know how to keep your heart going strong.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death, not just in the United States but around the world. One in 4 deaths in the United States are due to heart disease. Each year, more than 700,000 Americans have heart attacks. That’s the bad news. The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

Risks You Can’t Change

Even if you can’t do anything about them, you should know about all of your risk factors. For example, the odds of heart disease increase as you age. You can’t help getting older, but knowing the odds increase should help you focus on taking care of your heart as the birthdays start adding up. Other factors you can’t change include gender, race and family history. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports men have a greater and earlier risk of heart disease than women. Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans have higher risks. Children with parents who have heart disease are more likely to develop it, too.

Risks You Control

Even if you can’t control everything, you can still do a lot to reduce your odds of getting or worsening heart disease. Here are some risk factors and advice on how to reduce or stop their effects on your heart:

  • Tobacco use – Quitting tobacco is one of the quickest ways to reduce your chances of heart disease. This includes cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Smokers have two to four times the risk of nonsmokers.
  • High cholesterol – The higher your cholesterol, the greater the threat of heart disease. If you have other risk factors along with high cholesterol, the threat is even greater. To make sure your levels are in line, get regular cholesterol screenings. If any of your numbers are not in an acceptable range, your doctor can help.
  • High blood pressure – High blood pressure makes your heart work even harder than it already does. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked lately, do it soon. If you use an at-home monitor or a blood pressure machine often found in drug stores or in your workplace, you should still get your blood pressure checked by a medical professional on a regular basis.
  • Diabetes – If you have diabetes, your risk of heart disease goes up. To keep that risk as low as possible, you need to work with your doctor to manage your condition. Controlling your blood sugar, and any other risk factors you may have, can improve your overall risk for heart disease. Weight loss and management help control blood sugar.
  • Physical inactivity – Not getting enough physical activity can increase the danger posed by most of these risk factors. But if you don’t work out your body (and your heart!), that’s a problem in itself. The AHA recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days per week. You should also get at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days per week. Do moderate– to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week for even more health benefits.
  • Obesity or excess weight – Excess weight also affects other risk factors. People who are overweight tend to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Even with no other factors, excess body fat increases your chance of heart disease. Managing weight is not easy for many people. Along with regular physical activity, good nutrition can help you manage your weight. After all, weight control is about calories in and calories burned.

Other Contributing Factors

Excessive alcohol use and stress may add to your risk of heart disease. Too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, cause heart failure and even lead to a stroke. If you do drink, limit it to two drinks a day for men and one a day for women. Stress may lead to poor heart health. It also can lead people to overeat, overuse alcohol, not exercise or even start smoking. We can’t always avoid stressful situations, but we need to do our best to manage them.

Thank Your Heart

Now you know how hard your heart works and what you can do to return the favor. We hope you use American Heart Month as a starting point for lifestyle and heart-healthy changes that will last a lifetime.

The American Heart Association is an independent organization that provides health information you may find helpful.

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