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How to Manage Heart Disease Risk Factors

Three changes you can make this week to lower your risk of heart disease

February is Heart Health month, and as a cardiologist, I take the opportunity to remind people about their risk for heart disease and how they can lower their risk factors. Heart disease is a leading cause of death and disability in Canada and the leading cause of premature death in women. It’s vital that we understand what heart disease is, and even more crucial that we know how to prevent it. Happily, healthy lifestyle choices can prevent nearly 80% of premature heart disease and stroke.  

Most heart disease isn’t actually a disease of the heart, but rather a disease of the coronary arteries. Age and various risk factors can lead to plaque developing in the arteries. When that plaque narrows the diameter of the blood vessels, the heart can struggle to receive enough blood to keep pumping. A heart attack happens when a piece of plaque clogs a coronary artery, preventing blood from reaching the heart muscle.   

Risk factors

  • Family history—those pesky genetics. If your parents, their siblings or your brothers or sisters have had heart health issues, especially at a young age, then it’s important you share that with your physician.  
  • Smoking—no big surprise there. Smoking increases the formation of plaque (aka junk) in your coronary arteries. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause blood clots to develop. 
  • High blood pressure—get yours checked at any pharmacy. High blood pressure reduces the elasticity of your arteries, which reduces blood and oxygen flow to the heart. 
  • Diabetes—High blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. In addition, diabetics often present with some of the other conditions on this list, such as high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. 
  • Cholesterol—too much of the bad kind (LDL) or too little of the good (HDL) can increase risk. Fatty deposits can develop in the arteries as a result of high cholesterol, making it difficult for the blood to flow through to the heart. 

Three simple tips 

At a check-up with your primary care physician, you can discuss your family history and personal risk factors as well as review your current heart health. In the meantime, here are a few simple lifestyle choices you can implement into your daily routine that can help to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease: 

  1. Reduce your portion sizes—just by a little bit. Maintaining a healthy body weight is paramount to reducing your risk of heart disease. Small changes are both manageable and sustainable. You don’t need to cut out your favourite meal, just eat a little bit less of it.
  2. Add moments of physical activity to your day. You don’t need to join a CrossFit gym (though by all means, join if you want to!). Try taking advantage of opportunities for movement as they occur. Any amount of physical activity (walking, jogging, dancing) is helpful to reduce cardiovascular risk factors.
  3. Be mindful of your daily habits. Educating yourself on heart health and prevention can make you aware of unhealthy lifestyle choices you may be making. Take time to learn more about heart disease and what lifestyle factors can increase your risk. Then, with your new awareness, tackle some changes that feel right to you. 

Taking charge of your heart health doesn’t have to be scary. With small, mindful changes to your daily routine, you can significantly reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 

If you’d like to book a consultation with our team of physicians to diagnose your risk factors and create a preventive care plan, consider booking an Annual Health Assessment. Contact today. 

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