Get heart smart for better health

Your heart is only the size of your fist, but it is the strongest muscle in your body. It’s your body’s engine, and it deserves to be taken care of.

Many people don’t realise they are not living a healthy heart life. Learning the risks of heart disease can help you be your own heart health advocate.

Risk factors

An estimated 17.1 million people die of cardiovascular diseases every year, according to the World Heart Federation.

There are many risk factors that contribute to the development of heart disease. It is important to know that some risk factors, called “nonmodifiable risk factors,” cannot be changed. But other risk factors, called “modifiable risk factors,” can be controlled or treated.

The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing heart disease. And higher levels of each risk factor correlate with a higher risk for heart disease.

Hypertension is the single biggest risk factor for stroke. It also plays a significant role in heart attacks. It can be prevented and successfully treated, but only if you have it diagnosed and stick to your recommended management plan.

Abnormal blood lipid levels, that is high total cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides, high levels of low-density lipoprotein or low levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol all increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Changing to a healthy diet, exercise and medication can modify your blood lipid profile.

Tobacco use, whether it is smoking or chewing tobacco, increases risks of heart disease. The risk is especially high if you started smoking when young, smoke heavily or are a woman. Stopping tobacco use can reduce your risk of heart disease significantly, no matter how long you have smoked. Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of heart disease as well.

Physical inactivity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 per cent. People who don’t exercise regularly are 1.5 times more likely to develop heart disease. That’s why exercise is such an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle.

Obesity or being overweight, especially if a lot of weight is located in your waist area, increases your risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Type II diabetes is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Having diabetes makes you twice as likely as someone who does not, to develop heart disease.

If you do not control diabetes then you are more likely to develop heart disease at an earlier age than other people, and it will be more devastating. If you are a pre-menopausal woman, your diabetes cancels out the protective effect of estrogen and your risk of heart disease rises significantly.


heart health

Know the risk factors, and be sure to talk to you doctor about the ones that apply to you.

Take action to change your lifestyle, and work to prevent your modifiable risk factors from compromising your heart health.

Dr. Viviana Navas, MD, is a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, Florida.