Heart and Vascular Disease: Prevention Tips

Are you constantly on the go? Burning the candle at both ends? When someone says "downtime," do you even know what they're talking about? You're fine, you say. You don't need as much rest as other people. You'll start using that gym membership when things slow down.
But before you go back to multitasking, consider this doesn't care if you're young, successful or simply too busy to get sick. If you continue to put your health last on your priorities list, you're putting yourself at risk.
An estimated 80.7 million adults — or one in three — in the United States have cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the nation's leading killer, claiming nearly 2,400 Americans each day.
Here are some tips from the  to keep yourself informed and lower your risk of becoming another statistic.

Know the Risk Factors

The top risk factors for heart disease include:
  • Age 65 or older
  • Depression
  • Excessive drinking
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High stress
  • Poor nutrition or dietary habits
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking

Risk Factors You Might Not Know About

By gender:
  • Males are at greater risk of heart attack than females and they have them earlier in life.
  • Though their heart attack risk is lower, women are twice as likely as men to die after a heart attack, partly because they tend to be older when the incident occurs.
  • More women than men have died from heart disease in the United States every year since 1984. Women are more likely than men to be hospitalized for what's called "non-specific" chest pain, the term used when doctors can't find a cause.
By racial or ethnic group:
  • African-Americans, particularly females, have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease than Caucasians.
  • American Indians have the fastest growing incidence of heart disease of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.
  • Mexican-Americans, native Hawaiians and some are at increased risk of heart disease, partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

Know the Top 5 Heart Attack Warning Signs

  • Chest discomfort, such as pain, pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center of your chest, lasting more than a few minutes or going away and then coming back
  • Discomfort elsewhere in the upper body, such as in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
NOTE: While the most common symptom among both sexes is chest discomfort, are more likely than men to experience nausea, shortness of breath and back or jaw pain.

Take Control of Your Health

To prevent a heart attack:
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Engage in physical activity every day
  • Limit alcohol
  • Lower blood pressure to less than 120/80 mmHg
  • Manage diabetes (diabetics are two to four times more likely than non-diabetics to develop cardiovascular disease)
  • Reduce blood  to less than 200 mg/dL
  • Reduce stress

Modify Your Lifestyle

Exercise (Age 18 to 65)

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, five days a week.
  • 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, three days a week.
  • Light exercise as part your daily routine. Take the stairs, do yard work or walk around while on the phone.


  •  to your diet (25 to 30 grams per day) by eating raw vegetables and fruits, whole grains and beans.
  • Consume lean meats and poultry and remove the skin.
  • Consume less than 6 grams of  per day.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or "trans fats," such as hard margarine and shortening, and most baked goods.
  • Eat at least two servings of fish per week.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks for men.
  • Switch from whole-fat to low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

Monitor Your Health

  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Cholesterol levels (Total, HDL, LDL and triglycerides)
  • Waist circumference — a man with a waist of more than 40 inches or a woman with a waist of more than 35 inches are considered high-risk
NOTE — With the exception of BMI and waist measurement, these tests should be performed by a doctor or under a doctor's supervision. Online risk-assessment tools and at-home health tests should not replace regular medical care.

Other Resources

  •  U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

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