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    Heart health

    Keep things ticking: Top 10 heart health risk factors

    Take our quiz to find out your risk and create a unique heart health plan

    Take our quiz to find out your risk and create a unique heart health plan

    You’ve heard it before, but since it’s American Heart Month, we’ll say it again. Heart disease is the leading killer of U.S. adults. The number one cause of death is a frightening number, so here’s a new number: 10. Knowing these 10 heart health risk factors, and how to manage them, can save your life.

    To understand your personalized heart health risk better, check out our online quiz. Or, read along and learn the key to a healthy heart from our Intermountain Health caregivers.

    “Maintaining a healthy heart is the cornerstone of overall well-being, as the heart serves as the engine of our body,” said Carlos Albrecht, MD, an Intermountain Health cardiologist at St. James Healthcare.

    1. Family history/genetics

    Understanding your family's medical history is vital for anticipating health risks. Genetics play a significant role in heart-related issues. After speaking to your primary care provider about your family history, minimize any risks with lifestyle changes.

    2. Smoking

    Smoking (including second-hand smoke) deteriorates the cardiovascular system, increasing the likelihood of heart-related issues. This includes traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and vaping nicotine. Your primary care provider can help create a quitting plan.

    Viet Le, PA-C at Intermountain Medical Center, warned against smoking’s consequences. “Cardiovascular disease and smoking do not mix,” he said. “It is the highest risk for death and highest risk for cardiovascular events.”

    3. High blood pressure

    Consider high blood pressure a silent threat with serious consequences. While it often coincides with other risk factors, hypertension is the biggest indicator of heart disease. If your blood pressure is consistently higher than 130/80, consult your primary care doctor.

    4. Unhealthy diet

    A diet high in processed and unhealthy foods has direct implications for heart health. Opting for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supports cardiovascular well-being. Need heart healthy dish ideas? Check out this Intermountain dietitian cookbook.

    According to Dr. Albrecht, a balanced diet plays a pivotal role in persevering cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of heart disease. "Just as a well-maintained engine ensures the smooth functioning of a vehicle, a healthy heart is crucial for optimal physical performance and longevity,” he said.

    5. High cholesterol

    Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver, but it’s also in foods like meat, poultry, and dairy products. Too much cholesterol can block your blood’s circulation, so keeping your cholesterol levels low mitigates heart-related complications. Your primary care provider can order a blood test to obtain your cholesterol level, and help you address the results.

    6. Diabetes

    Diabetes introduces a layer of complexity to heart health. Unfortunately, diabetes and heart disease risk often coincide. According to the CDC, those with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke than those without diabetes. Make a plan with your primary care provider to address your diabetes and minimize heart risk with lifestyle changes.

    7. Physical inactivity

    Inactive lifestyles contribute to a range of heart-related issues, such as obesity and high blood pressure. Incorporating routine exercise is a great way to minimize these heart-related issues, and keep you feeling healthy.

    “Make sure that you’re being active,” Le said. “The American Heart Association says 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity. That sounds like a lot, but you break it down, it’s 30 minutes, five days a week. And you can even break it down into 10-minute segments.”

    8. Obesity

    Excess weight puts strain on the heart, impacting its efficiency and longevity. Everyone’s ‘ideal’ body weight varies by person, so talk to your primary care provider about your Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI calculator evaluates if you have an ideal BMI between 18.6 and 24.9.

    9. Not enough sleep

    Adequate sleep is a non-negotiable aspect of overall health, including heart health. According to the American Heart Association, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and children require eight to 16 hours, depending on their age.

    Enough sleep improves your body’s brain function, immune system, mood and energy, and reduces your risk of chronic disease.

    10. Too much stress

    Hopefully reading these risk factors hasn’t caused stress. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, among other factors. Managing stress levels helps maintain overall cardiovascular well-being. Your primary care provider can introduce stress-reduction strategies, such as exercise, meditation, and breathing techniques.

    “Maintaining the de-stressors in your life is important. It takes intention. It takes planning,” said Le. “Give yourself the gift of the present by knowing you can effect change.”

    In the realm of heart health, knowledge is power. Harness this power by understanding your unique risks, regularly visiting your doctor, and taking on heart healthy lifestyle changes. Each choice you make contributes to your cardiovascular well-being.

    “Prioritizing heart health is not just a choice,” said Dr. Albrecht. “It is a commitment to a vibrant and fulfilling life.” 

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    Keep things ticking: Top 10 heart health risk factors