Who should examine their risk factors? If you are over 20 years of age, now is the time to sit down and carefully look at your risk factors. It is recommended to see your family doctor every two years to track measurements, such as your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Between doctors’ visits, there are some helpful tools that you can use:
- The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has developed an excellent tool for calculating your body mass index, or BMI. Your goal is to keep your BMI under 25.
- Many doctors also use a popular, easy-to-use, 10-year risk assessment tool based on the Framingham Heart Study. The information derived from using this tool helps physicians and patients to work together as a team as they develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient’s specific risk factors.
Manage Your Cardiovascular Risk
So, after you’ve identified your risk factors, what do you do next? Start by having a conversation with your doctor or other healthcare provider. Together you can develop a risk factor modification plan that makes sense for you. In general, the best way to have a positive impact on these “manageable” risk factors is to take these steps.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking is highly addictive and quitting is difficult. So, avoid smoking in the first place and discourage everyone you know from starting.
If you do smoke or use other tobacco products, it’s time to stop. It’s not easy to stop smoking, but it’s essential. Smoking is toxic to your heart, blood vessels, and lungs. While many regret smoking, almost no one regrets stopping. Work with your healthcare team to develop a plan that will work for you. Quitting is a challenge you can accomplish.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A diet that is low in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar—and with just enough calories to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight—will help you to control your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and weight. And it’s healthy for the whole family! Learn more about heart-healthy nutrition.
Exercise: Include Physical Activity in Every Day
Studies have shown that you can improve your heart health by exercising at a moderate intensity just 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Be to check with your doctor to find out what level of exercise is best for you. There are tips on getting started and staying on track with a physically active lifestyle here.
Learn to Manage Stress
Anger, depression and anxiety have all been linked to heart disease. If you have difficulty with any of these emotions, finding ways to restore your sense of inner peace will not only make you happier, it will keep your heart and blood vessels healthier.
Take Your Medications
If your healthcare providers prescribe medications to manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes or other risk factors, be sure to take your medicines exactly as directed. Many people find they do a better job sticking with their medication regimen (what doctors call adherence) if they understand the purpose of each medication, they ask all of their questions and they tell their healthcare providers about side effects. Often side effects can be addressed with minor changes, but your doctor has to know about these issues in order to help. Learn more about Medications & Heart Health here.