These are the five “primary” risk factors listed by the American Heart Association:
1. Family history – If you have a blood relative who had a heart attack before age fifty, the odds are greater that you may have heart problems than if you family’s been free from heart disease, other factors being equal. A tendency to develop mutating artery-wall cells, which grow into artherosclerotic plaques, may be genetically inherited.
2. Stress and stress-producing personality behavior patterns – Tension, stress, and aggressive behavior patterns place a strain on the heart that has long been recognized as potentially lethal. In a stress situation, the body’s hormonal systems act as they have been programmed to do since the Stone Age: they speed up the heart rate and increase the blood pressure to prepare the body for flight or fight. If the body does flee, or fight, these adrenal hormones are metabolized; in common terms, the “tension” is burned up. But if the body does neither, or if a personality pattern continually interprets the world as a challenge or a threat – a stress situation – the hormones remain in the bloodstream. The body can’t relax. The heart and blood vessels are under constant, low-grade pressure, and the wear and tear may show up as heart disease.
3. Inactivity – There’s so much evidence associating inactivity with heart disease that its almost beyond question. If you find yourself getting up from the table after a heavy meal, sitting down in front of the TV, and dozing off until it’s time to go to bed, consider the advice of Per-Orlaf Astrand, a noted Swedish physiologist. He says that anyone who intends to be sedentary should pass a careful medical examination “in order to establish whether one’s state of health is good enough to stand the inactivity!”
Cigarette smoking is certainly a major cause of heart disease. A person who smokes over two packs of cigarettes a day has three times the likelihood of dying of heart attack as the nonsmoker and a much greater risk that his heart attack will be fatal.
4. High blood pressure – This has been generally recognized as one of the three major risk factors, along with cigarette smoking and cholesterol. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, stresses the circulatory system the way too much air stresses a balloon. Understandably, high blood pressure is the major cause of strokes, ruptured blood vessels in the brain. Most researchers feel that blood pressure under 140/90 is normal. They consider that anything above that is abnormal. Blood pressure above 160/95 is generally accepted as hypertension and should be treated
5. Obesity – It’s universally recognized that obesity puts a direct strain on the heart, along with the other systems of the body. Fat is relatively bloodless, as a look at the white fats in “marbled” beef will demonstrate. When the heart has to force blood through vessels that are squeezed by deposits of fat, there’s a strain.