Heart Disease

Heart Disease Risk Factors Risk factors are habits or traits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. Many of those for heart disease can be controlled. These include:

The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk. So take action–take control!

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Both heart disease and stroke are known as cardiovascular diseases, which are serious disorders of the heart and blood vessel system. Regular physical activity can help you reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. Being active helps take off extra pounds, helps to control blood pressure, lessens a diabetic’s need for insulin, and boosts the level of “good” HDL-cholesterol. Some studies also show that being inactive increases the risk of heart attack.

What Kind of Activity Promotes Heart Health?

Even low- to moderate-intensity activity can help lower the risk of heart disease. Examples of such activity are pleasure walking, stair climbing, gardening, yardwork, moderate-to-heavy housework, dancing, and home exercise. To get heart benefits from these activities, do one or more of them every day. More vigorous exercise improves the fitness of the heart, which can lower heart disease risk still more. This kind of activity is called “aerobic” and includes jogging, swimming, and jumping rope. Walking, bicycling, and dancing can also strengthen your heart, if you do them briskly for at least 30 minutes, three or four times a week. Most people do not need to see a doctor before they start a gradual, sensible program of physical activity. But do consult your doctor before you start or increase physical activity if you:

  • have heart trouble or have had a heart attack
  • are taking medicine for high blood pressure or a heart condition
  • are over 50 years old and are not used to energetic activity
  • have a family history of developing heart disease at a young age

The Keys to Success

Go slow. Build up your activity level gradually. For example, if you are inactive now and want to begin walking regularly, you might begin slowly with a 10-15-minute walk, three times a week. As you become more fit, you can increase the sessions to every day, and if you wish, you can make each session longer. If you choose a fairly vigorous activity, begin each session slowly. Allow a 5-minute period of stretching and slow movement to give your body a chance to “warm up.” At the end of your workout, take another 5 minutes to “cool down” with a slower exercise pace. Listen to your body. A certain amount of stiffness is normal at first. But if you hurt a joint or pull a muscle or tendon, stop the activity for several days to avoid more serious injury. Most minor muscle and joint problems can be relieved by rest and over-the-counter pain-killers.

Pay attention to warning signals. While regular physical activity can strengthen your heart, some types of activity may worsen existing heart problems. Warning signals include sudden dizziness, cold sweat, paleness, fainting, or pain or pressure in your upper body just after exercising. If you notice any of these signs, stop the activity and call your doctor immediately. Check the weather report. On hot, humid days, do outdoor activity during the cooler and less humid parts of the day. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing and drink lots of water before, during, and after the activity. On cold days, wear one layer less of clothing than you would wear if you were outside but not exercising. Also wear gloves and a hat. Keep at it. Unless you have to stop your regular physical activity for a health reason, stay with it. Set small, short-term goals for yourself. If you find yourself becoming bored, try doing the activity with a friend or family member. Or switch to another activity. The health rewards of regular physical activity are well worth the effort.

Making Opportunities

To become more physically active throughout your day, take advantage of any opportunity to get up and move around. For example:

  • Use the stairs–up and down–instead of the elevator. Start with one flight of stairs and gradually build up to more.
  • Park a few blocks from the office or store and walk the rest of the way. Or if you ride on public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk a few blocks.
  • Instead of eating that extra snack, take a brisk stroll around the neighborhood.
  • Do housework, such as vacuuming, at a brisker pace.
  • Mow your own lawn.
  • Carry your own groceries.
  • Take an exercise break–get up and stretch, walk around and give your muscles and mind a chance to relax.

For More Information

If you want to know more about keeping your heart healthy, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has free fact sheets available on the following subjects: preventing high blood pressure, preventing high blood cholesterol, quitting smoking, and heart disease risk factors for women.

Natural Treatments

Although researchers now strongly suspect that low levels of vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C may in fact put your body at increased risk for heart disease, most of these scientists are reluctant to recommend specific amounts of these nutrients that you should get from your diet or from supplements.

There are two reasons, researchers say. One is that there have not been enough large-scale studies in which huge numbers of people are given a specific amount of a nutrient and then tested for the effect. The second is that the amounts each person needs to eat or take to achieve therapeutic levels may be different, since each person absorbs each of these nutrients in his own, individual way.

Nutrients, Daily Amounts, and Applications

  • Beta-carotene: 10,000-25,000 international units
  • Vitamin C: 60-250 milligrams
  • Vitamin E: 60-100 international units

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Several other nutrients also play roles in heart health. Because low levels of these nutrients seem to raise the risk of heart disease, most doctors recommend that people be sure to get the Daily Values of these nutrients through a well-balanced diet and, if necessary, a multivitamin/mineral supplement.

Nutrients, Daily Amounts, and Applications

Medical Alert

  • If you have heart disease, you should discuss vitamin and mineral supplementation with your doctor.
  • The recommendations for the antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E exceed the Daily Values of these nutrients. A wide range is given for each vitamin because the exact amount consumed would vary from person to person.
  • If you are taking anticoagulant drugs, you should not take vitamin E supplements.