Heart disease is responsible for 1.2 million heart attacks in the United States each year. Over 40% of people suffering a heart attack will die, making heart disease one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Many of those who survive will become permanently disabled.
Unfortunately, many of the risk factors for heart disease are simply beyond your control. According to the American Heart Association, 83% of people who die from coronary heart disease are 65 years of age or older. In addition, men have a greater risk of heart disease than women. African Americans, American Indians, and Mexican Americans are also at an increased risk of developing heart disease. Having parents, grandparents, or siblings with heart disease is another significant risk factor.
While you can’t control your age, gender, race, or family history, you can decrease your chances of developing heart disease by focusing on the lifestyle changes you can make to improve your overall health. For example, the link between obesity and heat disease is well known. Excess body fat makes your heart work harder and increases your odds of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you are overweight, even losing just 10 pounds (4.53 kilograms) can drastically lower your risk of developing heart disease. Of course, committing to a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables will also provide a number of other important health benefits.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing heart disease because alcohol can cause an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. However, it is interesting to note that moderate drinkers have a slightly lower risk of developing heart disease than people who do not drink at all. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
Cigarette smoking causes a variety of health problems, including an increased risk of developing heart disease. Research has shown that smokers have double the risk of heart disease when compared to nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke can also raise a person’s chances of developing heart disease, particularly if other risk factors are present.
While stress doesn’t directly cause heart disease, it can be a significant risk factor for developing the condition. Stress forces your body to work harder to perform essential tasks, placing an added strain on your heart. In addition, when faced with stressful situations, many people overindulge in unhealthy foods and fail to get regular exercise. This can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of developing heart disease.