Why you should care about these 8 risk factors for heart disease

We get bombarded by health news, research, tips and warnings every day. Eat this, don’t eat that. Do this, don’t do that.

Sometimes there’s a lot of noise, and we miss the message.

Here’s a message you don’t want to miss: There are small changes you can make to reduce your risk factors for heart disease.

“My goal is to empower people to make changes to improve their heart health by educating them on their risk factors and showing them what changes they can make,” said Mostafa O. El-Refai, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute.  “Making changes can be a challenge, but a healthier heart is worth it.”

When you know how lifestyle choices affect your heart in the long run, there are changes you can start making now that will benefit your heart and your health. If you want to learn more about the risk factors for heart disease, visit learnyourlinks.com.

Dr. El-Refai focuses on eight risk factors for heart disease: diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, weight, family history, sleep and stress.

Symptoms may not be obvious, so regular checkups are the key to catching diabetes early.

Regular blood pressure checks and working with your doctor can help manage hypertension.

  • If you don’t have symptoms:
    • And are between 18 to 39 years old, have your blood pressure checked at least once every three to five years if you have no risk factors.
    • And are age 40 or older, get your blood pressure checked yearly.
  • If you have high blood pressure:
    • Work with your primary care provider to get your blood pressure within a healthy range.
    • Decrease salt intake and exercise more.

With support and resources, you can successfully quit smoking and improve your heart health.

Lifestyle changes and regular checks can keep cholesterol from wrecking your heart.

  • Healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years.
  • Adults with existing heart disease, vascular disease and diabetes should have cholesterol checked more frequently.
    • Depending on your risk, you may want to consider the following to keep cholesterol within healthy limits: a healthy diet, more exercise or medication.

Learn more about the 8 links to heart disease

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More exercise and healthier foods keep weight in check and your heart healthier.

  • Exercise for 30 to 40 minutes five times a week; if you can’t exercise that much, research shows that you will still benefit from any increase in exercise.
  • Eat healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables; limit red meat, processed food and sugars.
  • Eat the right amount of food; we tend to eat too much.
  • Even losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight can decrease your risk for metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions associated with diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
  • Losing 20 percent of your weight will reduce your risk by 53 percent.

Family history can’t be changed, but managing other risk factors is key.

  • Manage your other risk factors for heart disease.
  • Healthy diet and exercise can help delay the development of heart conditions.

Lifestyle changes help with better sleep and improved heart health.

  • Exercise regularly but not immediately before bed.
  • Decrease alcohol use.
  • Avoid caffeine at night.
  • Stick to a sleep routine.
  • Avoid night shift work if possible.

A few daily practices can decrease stress and anxiety for you and your heart.

  • A positive attitude has been shown to decrease stress.
  • Try meditation with deep breathing.
  • Exercise increases endorphins, which decrease stress.
  • Stay away from email, the TV and other screens for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day.
  • Find an activity that relaxes you and make time for it (could be reading, a bath, music, etc.)

Pick one change to make today. Change another in a few weeks. And if you need somewhere simple to start, here is Dr. El-Refai’s advice:

  1. Remember, you have more control over your health than you think.
  2. Improving your health is a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Lifestyle changes with diet and exercise are the foundation for healthy living.
  4. Keep your well visits with your health care provider so you can catch conditions early.

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