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February 6, 2017

5 Numbers that Can Protect Your Heart

by John Hastings

Last week’s blog post focused on what women need to know to help them spot a heart attack. That’s important, but all of us, women and men alike, would rather prevent heart disease in the first place. In honor of American Heart Month, here are a few numbers that can help you keep your risk low:

4

The American Heart Association recommends getting a cholesterol test every four to six years, starting at age 20, because the higher your total blood cholesterol level, the higher your odds of developing heart problems. A blood test will also tell you your levels of HDL cholesterol, AKA “good” cholesterol; depending on the type of test, you may get numbers for your LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of blood fat), as well. When it comes to HDL cholesterol, the higher the better, because HDL cholesterol actually helps remove bad cholesterol from blood vessels.

2

Having diabetes can double your risk of dying of heart disease, and may even quadruple it. Fortunately, healthy habits can reduce your likelihood of developing diabetes (and help protect your heart if you do have the disease). Regular exercise, a healthy diet and stopping smoking can make an enormous difference. And if you’re overweight, every pound you lose reduces your risk of developing diabetes.

1 in 3

High blood pressure, which affects one in three Americans, is sometimes called a silent disease, because it generally doesn’t cause any symptoms -- but it’s a problem nevertheless, because (among other things) it increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. A healthy blood pressure is under 120/80. You can help keep your numbers where they belong by sticking to a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being active and not smoking (sound familiar?). If your blood pressure climbs to 140/90, your doctor may recommend medication.

35

Oddly enough, having a large waist -- more than 35 inches for a woman and over 40 inches for a man -- is a risk factor for heart disease. What’s the connection? An “apple” shape suggests that you have a relatively large amount of fat surrounding your liver and other abdominal organs. That abdominal fat acts differently than fat around, say, your thighs, releasing substances that cause damage throughout your body. If your waist measures more than you’d like, it’s all the more reason to watch your other heart disease risk factors.

2

Heart disease affects much more than your heart – your brain depends on healthy blood vessels, too. In fact, most strokes are caused by a clot in a blood vessel feeding the brain. With each passing decade after you turn 55, your risk of stroke doubles. The good news: The lifestyle choices that help your heart will also protect your brain.