Let’s talk about health risks (we are Life & Health, after all). It might be easy to brush risks in this arena aside, given that everything seems to be a health risk. But really, more than anything else, is your health something you should be risking? Risk-taking health can lead to costly, lifelong issues, most commonly with your heart. That’s why we’re here to help guide you to lessen your risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).
You might be relieved to hear that the risk factors related to coronary heart disease are preventable.
The four major risk factors are:
High blood pressure
It’s been shown that, if you have any of the above risk factors, the possibility of having CHD is extremely high. In fact, around 80-90% of CHD patients have one of the four above health problems. Out of patients who have had a fatal outcome from CHD, 95% of those patients had one of those four major risk factors.
Risk #1: Diabetes
Exactly how much does CHD risk go up when we have diabetes? A study of cardiovascular risk of patients with diabetes showed that diabetes can increase the risk of both CHD and ischemic stroke, a blood vessel blockage in the brain, by two to four times.
Risk #2: Smoking
The most preventable major risk factor for CHD is smoking. Just by not smoking, you can lower the risk of CHD, as well as lessen the risk of other diseases, especially lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer. Never smoking in the first place is a great way to avoid one of the “big four” risk factors of heart disease. If you already smoke, don’t sweat it. It’s never too late to quit and the benefits are literally immediate.
Risk #3: High blood pressure
High blood pressure, or what clinicians call hypertension, is usually a diet-caused disease. High sodium in the diet, lack of exercise, and stress, all combine and result in high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most common risk factor in the U.S. for death among females and comes in as the second leading risk factor for death in males. In short, the risks associated with high blood pressure are far too high to ignore. Blood pressure is very manageable by maintaining a diet low in sodium, refined sugars, and fats. Also, regular exercise will keep the heart in good shape and lower the risk of high blood pressure.
Risk #4: High cholesterol
When we screen for cholesterol, too often we get numbers above where the levels should be. There are many ways we can address high cholesterol, with diet playing a significant role. When we shop for groceries, we can lower our cholesterol levels by cutting out meats, dairy, and processed foods that contain unhealthy fats. Instead of those high-fat foods, choose heart-healthy foods such as fresh fruit, seeds, and tree nuts. These contain vitamins, essential minerals and the healthy fats that our hearts and various cells need.
The American Journal of Cardiology estimated that if just 5% of diabetes was prevented by lifestyle and diet changes, close to 30,000 incidents of heart failure could be avoided yearly. These smaller steps to lower risk can pay off when it matters. So what’s the consensus? Take less risks with your life and health so you can enjoy taking risks in other ways, like going on adventures, traveling to unknown places, and forming new relationships.
JUSTIN LEAL IS A BIOLOGY GRADUATE OF CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, BAKERSFIELD. CURRENTLY, HE IS PURSUING A MASTER’S IN PUBLIC HEALTH AT LOMA LINDA UNIVERSITY IN HEALTH EDUCATION.