There are many lifestyle changes that can
significantly reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease and having
a heart attack. When assessing your risk, it is important to understand that there
are factors you can control, and others you can’t.
Factors You Cannot Control
The older you are, the higher your risk for coronary
artery disease and heart attack. Approximately 82 percent of people who die
from coronary artery disease are 65 or older.
Men have an increased risk of heart disease
compared to women, though it is the number one killer in the U.S. for both men
Your risk for heart disease is greater if your
father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or if your
mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65.
African Americans, Mexican Americans, American
Indians and native Hawaiians have a higher risk of heart disease and heart
Factors You Can Control
Smoking is the most common cause of preventable
death and disease in the United States, and it significantly raises your risk
for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer
a heart attack as nonsmokers.
High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the
blood contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to a
heart attack. While cholesterol levels are impacted by heredity, gender, and
age, you can take steps to improve your cholesterol levels through diet,
exercise, or medication.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) means the
heart must work harder to push blood through the vessels. This extra strain puts
you at an increased risk for a heart attack, as well as heart failure, stroke,
and kidney disease. Certain medications and healthy lifestyle habits can help lower
your blood pressure—including exercise, nutrition, and maintaining a healthy
Overweight or Obese
It’s a simple notion; the more you weigh, the
harder your heart has to work to pump blood through the body. Research has
shown that being overweight or obese significantly raises your risk for heart disease
and heart attack. In addition, excess weight contributes to other heart attack
risk factors, including cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Diabetes increases the risk of coronary artery
disease, even when blood sugar levels are under control. According to the
American Heart Association, 65 percent of people with diabetes die of heart or
blood vessel diseases.
Other Contributing Risk Factors
Alcohol use, stress
and poor nutrition are other risk
factors that have shown to increase your risk of heart disease, though not as
significantly as the major risk factors identified above.