This Valentine’s Day, Is Your Heart at Risk?

Many people consider their emotional heart health around Valentine’s Day, but what about our physical heart health?  Heart disease is the number one killer of both women and men in America.  About 1 in 4 deaths in this country are attributable to heart disease – yikes!  (Many women erroneously believe that breast cancer is the number one killer of women, largely due to the amount of money spent on fundraising and advertising.  Check out this very informative chart that compares the amount of money donated to health causes each year, compared to the rates of death caused by these conditions.)

Is your heart at risk? Image: Gualberto107 |FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is your heart at risk?
Image: Gualberto107 |FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

There are many risk factors for heart disease.  Some are modifiable (meaning you can change them, or their severity) and some are non-modifiable (things that are harder or impossible to change).

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

  • Age.  For both genders, as we age we lose elasticity in our tissues, including our blood vessels, which can contribute to heart disease.
  • Menopause.  Women are typically affected by heart disease about 10 years later than men.  This is because natural estrogen is cardio-protective, meaning, it aids in heart health.  Once we hit menopause, our estrogen drops, and we lose its protection.  (This is also true for women who have had total hysterectomies.)  It used to be believed that hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) could supplement estrogen and reduce our heart risk.  However, studies are showing that this idea may not be true; in fact, HRT may cause more problems in post-menopausal women.  Be sure to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
  • Family history.  Risk is greater for those with family members who developed heart disease at an early age (before 55 years of age).  Unfortunately, we can’t change our genes.  It is important, however, to be aware if we are at greater risk, so we can take greater preventative measures by way of modifiable risk factors.
Be sure to see your doctor regularly to keep track of your heart health. Image: Ambro | freedigitalphotos.net

Be sure to see your doctor regularly to keep track of your heart health.
Image: Ambro | freedigitalphotos.net

Modifiable Risk Factors

  • Tobacco use.  According to the CDC, smoking increases blood clotting factors, raises blood pressure, and reduces the amount of oxygen carried in the blood.  Here are some resources for those looking to quit smoking.
  • Physical inactivity.  I’m sure many of you have heard that “sitting is the new smoking“.  Sitting for hours on end, day after day is not what our bodies were designed to do.  Being active, even at a low intensity level, helps raise our HDL (“Healthy” cholesterol), lower our LDL (“Lousy” cholesterol), maintain a healthy body weight (helpful since obesity is another risk factor), manage blood sugars, and can help us keep our lean body mass (muscle and bone).
  • Obesity.  Alternatively, excess body fat can undo all of the benefits brought about by physical activity.  It increases our total cholesterol (especially our LDL – lousy), triglycerides, and may cause our body to become resistant to our own insulin – leaving our blood sugar higher for longer and increasing our risk for diabetes (yet another risk factor).
  • Managing other conditions.  Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure can all contribute to a greater heart disease risk.
  • Breastfeeding. {More on this in a future post.}
  • Diet.  Of course I had to save this one for last.  Diet plays such a huge role in the acquisition, prevention, and treatment of many chronic diseases!  In fact, Eating for Heart Health deserves a whole separate post.  {Check out info on Dietary Fat and Fiber}

So, now that we know some ways that we can affect our own heart health, we know some ways to prevent or delay onset in ourselves and our families.  Don’t forget to check out RDN Mama’s posts on Eating for Heart Health {Part 1} and {Part 2} and Breastfeeding and Heart Disease {coming soon}!

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