To tackle your heart risk factors, it helps to know your numbers. Ask your health care provider to measure your blood cholesterol and blood pressure. Then determine if your weight is in the healthy range.
The higher your cholesterol level, the greater your risk for heart disease or heart attack. High blood cholesterol itself doesn’t cause symptoms, so you can’t know if your cholesterol is too high unless you have it tested. Routine blood tests can show your overall cholesterol level and separate levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these blood measurements are linked to your heart health.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is another major risk factor for heart disease, as well as for stroke. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because, like high cholesterol, it usually has no symptoms. Blood pressure is always reported as 2 numbers, and any numbers above 120/80 mmHg raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Scientific evidence is strong that controlling high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure prevents cardiac events such as heart attacks.
Your weight is another important number to know. To find out if you need to lose weight to reduce your risk of heart disease, you’ll need to calculate your body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height). A BMI between 25 and 29.9 means that you’re overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher means obesity.
Next, take out a tape measure. A waist measurement of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men raises the risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions. Fortunately, even a small weight loss (between 5% and 10% of your current weight) can help lower your risk.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood sugar, or glucose, under control. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die of heart or blood vessel disease. If you’re at risk for diabetes, modest changes in diet and level of physical activity can often prevent or delay its development.