This lesson will describe for you the numerous controllable and uncontrollable risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease as well as important preventative strategies to maximize your health.
Every day you wake up and go outside, you risk death. Hopefully for most of you I am exaggerating quite a bit, but it's not like I'm completely lying either. The things that you do once a year or on a daily basis influence your fate in one way, shape, or form.
Many of those actions or decisions are considered risk factors for one thing or another, like a broken bone, blindness, or some disease. And since cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., it's only fair we zero in on the risk factors that predispose one to this and the preventative strategies you can take to minimize your chances of death from it.
Smoking, Drinking, and Nutrition
Among the many different things that influence heart health, some are more obvious than others.
Smoking is something that is always cited as a major problem related to cardiovascular disease. The toxins in smoke end up damaging the function of your heart and blood vessels. Tobacco use significantly increases the chances of developing something known as atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up within the arterial walls. This causes these vessels, the arteries, to narrow and restrict blood flow. It can occur in many places, but when plaque builds up in the vessels of the heart, known as the coronary arteries, it leads to coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack and death.
Therefore, it's important to either never start smoking or to stop as soon as possible. There are numerous ways you can help yourself quit smoking if you want to. This includes using things like the nicotine patch or gum or by way of seeking the help of a counselor.
Counseling, through rehabilitation programs, is also a method that is used to help individuals with alcoholism. Alcoholism is also an important risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. This is because alcohol leads to oxidative stress upon the heart. This means that the heart is damaged by dangerous little things called free radicals. They are like super small bullets that hit the heart and over time end up causing so much heart damage that it no longer works properly. This is why not drinking in excess or entering a rehabilitation program for alcoholics is highly recommended.
One other reason alcohol is so bad for your heart is because many alcoholics simply don't get enough nutrients as a result of all that alcohol consumption. Eating a balanced and healthy diet is important for the whole body health, not just the heart.
Individuals should avoid eating too much salt or too much in general, especially saturated fat. This is because eating too much fat or too much in general can lead to obesity, which is a body mass index of 30 or more. Both obesity and the ingestion of high amounts of saturated fat are linked to causing what we discussed previously, coronary heart disease and its not-so-pleasant consequence. Therefore, eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is important for heart health not only because they provide a lot of important vitamins and minerals but also because they act as a very healthy substitute for greasy, artery clogging, meat.
Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, & Exercise
Obesity can lead to a condition known as diabetes mellitus, a disease that results in high blood sugar. Whether diabetes occurs due to obesity or another thing is inconsequential in the grand scheme of our discussion. Diabetes has been linked to increasing the chances of coronary heart disease due to the high blood sugar. This is why individuals with this endocrine disorder should seek out appropriate insulin therapy in order to keep their blood sugar under control. If a person has diabetes due to obesity, then exercise is another important strategy to utilize to help prevent, or at the least, slow down the progression of heart disease.
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Appropriate exercise has been shown to be healthy for the heart itself, and of course, it also cuts back on other risk factors like the ones we just discussed. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week.
A further risk factor I want to get to in detail is hypertension, or high blood pressure that can occur for many reasons, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and a poor diet. High blood pressure makes your heart work much harder. A heart working hard for a long time tires and fails like you tire after a hard day at work.
That is why using blood pressure medication, and not surprisingly, appropriate nutrition (such as the reduction of sodium intake) and exercise can all lead to a lowered blood pressure and therefore a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
Lastly, some risk factors are not controllable. What I mean is, just like you can't realistically control a meteor hitting you if you go outside, you can't control the following things that increase the chances of getting heart disease. These things include:
Being male, but post-menopausal women have increased risks as well, though.
Old age, especially over the age of 65, is another risk factor.
A family history of heart disease, and
Having an African American, Mexican American, and American Indian background.
In short, age, sex, race, and family history are things that are simply not in your control when it comes down to heart disease, but that doesn't mean you should throw your hands up in the air if you're in one of the categories above! You can still minimize your problems by following the things I outlined before and talking to your doctor.
Hopefully you were able to piece together how interrelated the diseases, preventative strategies, and final outcome of cardiovascular disease truly are.
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:
Obesity, a body mass index of 30 or more
Diabetes mellitus, a disease that results in high blood sugar
Hypertension, high blood pressure
Uncontrollable factors, such as race, sex, age, and family history
Note how many of the things we discussed in this lesson are linked to atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up within the arterial walls, that can lead to coronary heart disease, a heart attack, and death.
Therefore, to prevent this from happening, it's important you stop smoking, do not drink in excess, exercise, and eat right.
After this lesson, you should have the ability to:
Identify the risk factors for cardiovascular disease
Explain how these risk factors are linked to atherosclerosis
Describe some ways to prevent cardiovascular disease
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