Think heart disease is something you don’t have to worry about until you reach your golden years? Think again: Plaque can begin to build up in your arteries as early as childhood and continues to progress throughout adulthood. Over time, plaque may partially or completely block blood flow through an artery, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. In some people, this process speeds up as early as their 30s, whereas others may not experience the effects until later in life.
The buildup of plaque in the arteries is a condition called atherosclerosis and it often leads to coronary heart disease — the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 370,000 people every year.
Your Health Is In Your Hands
You can’t change some risk factors, such as your age, family history and gender (men have a higher risk for heart attack than women). Others you can. Some factors you can control include:
- Quitting or never smoking
- Managing cholesterol levels
- Lowering blood pressure
- Increasing physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Preventing or controlling diabetes
It’s never too early to fight back against heart disease. In fact, the American Heart Association urges adults to begin taking preventive measures against heart attacks as young as age 20.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the key risk factors for heart disease.
Here’s what you can do to improve your heart health starting today:
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts and low-fat dairy products
- Reduce your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugary beverages
- Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days per week
- Work with your doctor to manage your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes
- Take steps to deal with stress by exercising, getting six to eight hours of sleep per night, and spending time with people who bring you joy
- Limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women
Get Personalized Guidance From Your Doctor
Starting at age 20, visit your doctor for heart-health screenings. Some of the screenings include checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and body mass index (BMI).
If your doctor finds you have a problem, like high blood pressure, he or she will recommend steps you can take to manage it before you develop more serious issues. These steps may include a combination of lifestyle changes and medications, such as those to control your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, if necessary. How often you need to follow up with your physician depends on your risk factors and overall health.
If you haven’t visited your doctor for a cardiovascular screening yet, make an appointment today. Find a primary care physician near you here or learn more about our advanced heart and vascular care services.