8 things that affect your heart health

Updated Feb 13, 2019

In honor of February being National Heart Month, the American Heart Association has released a list of eight things that can affect your heart and what you should know about them.

These eight things can affect your heart health: 

1. Cholesterol: LDL cholesterol can clog arteries and lead to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Your doctor can conduct a blood test to measure your cholesterol levels. A low-fat diet can help lower your LDL cholesterol levels while exercise can increase your HDL cholesterol, or the good cholesterol, levels.

Heart2. Resting Heart Rate: A resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute is considered normal for most people. Exercising regularly can lower your heart rate and reduce your risk for heart-related ailments. AHA recommends checking your heart rate at rest first things in the morning before you get out of bed.

3. Cardiorespiratory Fitness: Aerobic exercise can strengthen your heart and lower your risk for developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and some types of cancers. Your doctor can help you measure your cardiovascular endurance and overall fitness, and help you come up with a plan for improving. Even a brisk walk is beneficial. AHA says any regular aerobic exercise that increases breathing and heart rate can build up endurance.

4. Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. High blood pressure is considered to be any blood pressure reading of 130 or higher for the top number, or 80 or higher for the bottom number. Measure your blood pressure regularly with a monitor, available from your doctor or pharmacy, to figure out what your numbers are. If your blood pressure is high, talk with your doctor.

5. Blood Glucose Level: When there is too much sugar in the blood because the body isn’t making enough insulin or cannot use insulin efficiently, an individual may develop Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is associated with obesity and physical inactivity, and a healthy diet and exercise regimen can lower your risk for it. A low-fat diet that’s limited on sweets, added sugars, and processed meats can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

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6. Waist Circumference: People who carry fat around their abdomen, instead of the hips or elsewhere, are at a greater risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to the AHA. A larger waist is also considered to have an increased risk of high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. Men should aim for less than 40 inches and women should aim for less than 35 inches. To determine your waist circumference, wrap a tape measure around your waist while you’re standing. Place it above your hipbones, exhale, and record the measurement.

7. Heart Rhythm: Atrial fibrillation, or a quivering or irregular heartbeat, doubles an individual’s risk for heart-related death and increases the risk of stroke by five times. The common systems of atrial fibrillation include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat. If you have those symptoms, AHA says you should consult your doctor for treatment.

8. Family History: If your parent, grandparent, or sibling has had a stroke, heart attack, or other forms of heart disease, then you should share that information with your doctor because it means you are at an increased risk. Detailed information on how old the family member was when they first developed heart disease can be helpful to your doctor, as well.

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