According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease results in 17.5 million deaths worldwide

Heart disease is the single greatest cause of death in both the United States and the world accounting for over half of all deaths. Given this stark reality, it is important to clearly know your major risk factors.

According to the American Heart Association, there are 10 leading risk factors, they are:

• Age – According to mortuary tables, more than 83% of the people who die from heart disease are 65 or older.

• Race – If you are African American, Mexican American, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, or Asian American then your risk is higher than the Caucasian community.

• Sex – Men have both a greater risk of heart attack and having it at an earlier age than women.

• Family History – There is a close association for heart disease if your parents or close relatives have some form of heart disease.

• Smoking – Your risk for developing heart disease is two to four times greater than those who do not smoke.

• High Blood Pressure – One out of every three Americans has high blood pressure. Not only does it increase your risk for heart attacks and kidney failure but it is the number one risk factor for stroke.

• High Cholesterol – As your blood cholesterol increases so does your risk for heart disease.

• Diabetes – This disease seriously increases your risk for heart disease since approximately 65% of people with diabetes die from some form of cardiovascular disease.

• Sedentary Lifestyle – The greater your inactivity the greater your risk.

• Overweight/Obesity – There is a direct correlation with excess body fat, especially fat around the midsection, and the increased risk for heart disease and stroke; even if there are no additional risk factors.

I’ve ranked 5 major risk factors for heart disease based on what you can control and what I believe are the most important to address first. They are:

1. High Blood Pressure

This is the most important area to gain control over. If you do not know what your current blood pressure reading is or if you have not had your blood pressure taken in the last 6 months, have it taken.

Your blood pressure will be given to you in two numbers such as 110/70 mm Hg. Your systolic number is the first and highest number. Your diastolic number is the second and lowest number. If these numbers are above 140/90 then you have high blood pressure.

High blood pressure will damage your heart and your endothelial cells, which are critical to cardiovascular health. They also play a major role in controlling your blood pressure because they produce a molecule called nitric oxide, which regulates the muscle tone of your blood vessels.

2. Smoking

Most people equate smoking with cancer. While this association is true smoking is also the number one risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. It is estimated that 40% of all cardiovascular deaths are due to smoking.

The carcinogenic components in tobacco damage the endothelial cells that line the walls of your arteries. This affects your body’s ability to produce nitric oxide which in turn affects your blood pressure. The carbon monoxide from the burned tobacco interferes with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. This increases your heart rate and can raise your systolic blood pressure. Smoking also constricts the blood vessels in your arms and legs. This increases the resistance to blood flow which causes your diastolic blood pressure to increase.

3. Overweight/Obesity

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 66% of adults age 20 years and over are overweight with 32% clinically obese. With this dangerous rise in excess fat weight, there has been a rise in high blood pressure and an epidemic increase in diabetes.

The greater your percent body fat, the more out of balance your hormonal level will be, and the harder it will be for your body to stabilize its blood sugar levels. It is for this reason that I combine diabetes with overweight issues. Most people who get a good handle on their weight and their dietary choices will see a drastic improvement in their blood sugar levels to help prevent type II diabetes. The majority of those with adult-onset type II diabetes could prevent and/or reverse the process if they lost the fat and ate a diet that supported the health of their body rather than satisfying their cravings.

4. High Cholesterol

There are two main types of cholesterol are high-density cholesterol or HDL and low-density cholesterol or LDL. Of the total cholesterol reading, the LDL will be the higher amount. Unfortunately, your LDL is what also harms your cardiovascular system. Your goal is to lower your bad cholesterol which is your LDL and raise the level of your good cholesterol which is your HDL.

Your LDL cholesterol damages the intercellular junctions between the endothelial cells allowing deposits to build up. This causes the smooth and flexible lining of your blood vessels to become rough and hard leading to the disease commonly called arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis. As this process continues over time, the deposits or plaques become larger which narrows the interior of the blood vessel making it harder for blood to pass through. This increases resistance to blood flow which can cause your blood pressure to increase.

The narrowing of your blood vessels also causes blood turbulence that can lead to the formation of blood clots. These blood clots, if large enough or if they pass through too narrow of an opening, can eventually lodge themselves in a blood vessel causing a blockage. When this happens in the heart we call it a heart attack. When it happens in the brain it is called a stroke.

A simple method to control your cholesterol is to make sure you consume an adequate amount of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, dry beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Soluble fiber not only lowers LDL cholesterol but also raises HDL cholesterol.

5. Sedentary Lifestyle

You were designed to move and exercise. Properly applied exercise will strengthen your heart muscle, increase the diameter of the coronary arteries, and improve your lung function. As the heart muscle is strengthened it usually improves the efficiency of its contraction. This results in a greater volume of blood being pushed out of the heart to improve blood flow.

Exercise can also improve capillary function and help to build additional capillary beds. This decreases resistance to blood flow to help lower your diastolic blood pressure. Most studies show that at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity done 3 to 5 days per week can have a positive effect on your cardiovascular health.

Author Dan Hammer has a background in biology, chemistry, and exercise physiology. He used to run one of the largest health club operations in the Chicagoland area and has been helping people with their wellness issues for more than 25 years.

His website http://www.Aging-No-More.com provides current information on how to slow down the aging process.

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