What’s your genetic legacy?

You have the power to change your heart health

To say I’m competitive is an understatement. When I was doing TV news I wanted to get the story first or be first in the ratings. When I was running, I wanted to be in the top five of my age group. At the gym, I wanted to hold a plank longer than anybody else (my best is almost seven minutes … not that I’m bragging.) That drive to be the best turns out to be a good thing when it comes to my heart health.

Unfortunately, I’ve inherited some genetic “baggage” that increases my risk for heart disease. My dad died following a stroke, and that is a risk factor for heart disease. Dad also had atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol and smoked for many years. His dad died in his mid-60s following multiple heart attacks beginning in his 50s. There’s also heart disease on my mom’s side. Her dad died at age 65 of a massive heart attack. On top of all that, aging increases your risk for heart disease.

A heart expert told me, “While one cannot choose one’s genes, it is beneficial for each of us to know if family history imparts a higher risk for personal development of heart disease. Hopefully, knowledge regarding that risk factor will motivate us to optimize our lifestyle and decrease our own risk.”

This is especially true if someone dies of heart disease at an early age, like my dad’s dad. So am I toast, as they say? Absolutely not! While I can’t change my family history, I can reduce other risk factors for heart disease.

Common risk factors for heart disease:

  • Smoking
  • Poor diet 
  • High blood pressure 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Physical inactivity 
  • Stress
  • Poor hygiene

I don’t smoke, I eat well, I don’t have high blood pressure or diabetes. I make myself get to the gym at least five days a week, I’m at a healthy weight and I try to practice good hygiene. (Poor hygiene can lead to viral or bacterial infections, which can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition.) I do, however, have high cholesterol. That too is hereditary. My ratio of good cholesterol to bad is excellent, though, so I don’t have to take medication to bring it down. My doctor tells me exercise helps my HDL (good cholesterol) to stay on the high side — over 100. The stress part? Well, I’m working on that.

The point of all this is the importance of knowing the things you can change and the things you can’t change — and then doing something about it.

I know what my heart numbers are — cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index. I have a primary care physician who knows me and my family history. I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and let heart disease catch me — at least not without a fight.

Your health is in your control. What’s your family history setting you up for, and what are you going to do about it? If you don’t know what killed your grandparents or great grandparents, find out. Knowing is truly a matter of life or death.

For fun why not take this heart disease risk assessment? I did and what it told me is exactly what I expected. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

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