Your head throbs after a night in Vegas. Your joints ache after a 10K. But your heart? You’re less likely to realize something’s wrong until something’s really, really wrong. And that’s troubling, given that cardiovascular diseases now account for nearly 1 in 3 deaths in America every year. Heart disease now leads the way as the number one killer of men. Worse, 38 percent of adults meet at least three of the seven criteria for “poor” heart health set out by the American Heart Association.
These five strategies will help keep your ticker going strong.
Assess Your Risk. “An assessment of cardiovascular risk factors–including a cholesterol test and blood pressure exam–should be done in early adulthood, say during one’s twenties,” says John Elefteriades, M.D., professor of surgery and director of the Aortic Institute at Yale. Those results will help determine your next move. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease, a more thorough risk assessment should be one of your top priorities. Many doctors recommend an exam modeled after something called the Framingham Heart Study. It combines factors like age and blood pressure to determine your risk of heart disease, and gives you an actual percentage score. One version of the test relies on a complex algorithm, while the other is points-based. Go with the algorithm. It’s more accurate, according to a study published in BMC Medicine.
Understand LDL. It’s often cast as the villain, but not all LDL is as bad as it seems, says Ronald Krauss, M.D., senior scientist and director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. New ways of studying cholesterol have shown that you can parse LDL into at least four sub-categories–some very bad, and some relatively benign. While researchers work on the best ways to laser-target the worst of the LDL, stick to more traditional methods. Have oatmeal for breakfast–it contains betaglucans, soluble fibers that help reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed in the intestines. Click here for 5 Cholesterol-Fighting Foods.
Consider These Tests. If your doctor needs to know more information about your risk, he has a few options. If you have a moderate to high risk of heart disease, your doctor may request a C-reactive protein (CRP) test. “CRP is an indicator of inflammation, or internal irritation, of the blood vessels. Fortunately, it can be brought down from high levels by exercise,” says Elefteriades. There’s also the CT scan, which allows a doctor to see directly if arterial buildup is an issue.
Watch Your Blood Pressure. Cutting your sodium intake alone won’t always do the trick: In a recent review of seven studies, people who lowered their salt intake were just as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as those who didn’t limit sodium, according to research in the American Journal of Hypertension. Shedding pounds is a better solution: Getting in shape can yield as much as a 10- to 29-point drop in blood pressure. And regular aerobic exercise can make it fall another 10 points–it causes your blood vessels to expand and contract, which they’ll need to do when you’re stressed. In the office, keep a rubber ball nearby. Click here for The 3 Best New Cardio Workouts.
Look Beyond Total Cholesterol. Some tests can also give you a more detailed look into your cholesterol, if it’s necessary. One of them is the non-HDL test. “I recommend that everyone gets it,” says Krauss. “It’s determined by simply subtracting HDL cholesterol from total cholesterol. These are both standard tests, so there’s no special testing required.”
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