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Changeable Risk Factors

Many factors that contribute to heart disease can be controlled to a certain extent. Knowing what these factors are and how you can affect them will help you keep your heart healthier.

Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is defined by readings of 140/90 or greater over an extended period of time. This causes the heart to work harder than normal, putting a greater stress on the heart and arteries. There are often no symptoms of high blood pressure, so it is important you have it checked at least once a year. It can be modified through weight loss, decreased salt in the diet and increasing physical activity. If your doctor prescribes blood pressure medication, take it as directed, and do not discontinue the medication unless your doctor advises.


Cholesterol is a fat-like substance circulating in your blood. It is used to form cell membranes, certain hormones and other necessary substances. Your body naturally produces cholesterol but you can also find it in many foods (egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish and whole-milk products).

The only way to measure cholesterol is through a blood test. It is important to have your levels checked each year. Adjusting your diet and exercising can help decrease your cholesterol intake.


Your body’s cells get their energy from sugar (glucose). When your body needs energy, the liver releases stored glucose into the blood. Insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, helps the glucose get inside the cells that need it.

Diabetes makes it difficult for the body to use sugar (glucose) correctly. The buildup of unused glucose may lead to a number of symptoms, including increased thirst, increased appetite, weight loss, excessive urination, fatigue or general weakness, sugar in the urine, elevated blood sugar or blurry vision.

Over a period of time, diabetes can cause atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in the blood vessels), which can lead to heart disease. This can then cause poor circulation in the lower limbs.

Because of poor circulation in lower extremities, a person with diabetes may suffer other complications. These complications can be prevented or delayed by controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and lipids and by quitting smoking.

Physical Inactivity

People who are physically inactive are more likely to develop heart disease than those who are active. Exercise recommendations are 30 minutes on most days of the week. It can be done all at one time or accumulated throughout the day. If you are just starting an exercise program, consult your physician and begin slowly.

Smoking and Tobacco Use

Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable death in the U.S. If you smoke, you face a risk of heart attack double that of a nonsmoker. The good news is that when you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease dramatically decreases no matter how much or for how long you smoked.

Follow this link for more information on smoking and how you can quit.


Unhealthy responses to stress may lead to smoking, overeating or lack of exercise - which are all risk factors for heart disease. Exercise, relaxation, meditation or even a good cry can help control stress. Take time for yourself! Our Behavioral Health experts can help you control stress.


Your nutrition and exercise habits have a powerful and direct effect on your blood cholesterol level and can increase your risk of heart disease. Your diet can either endanger your heart or protect it. Two guides to a healthy weight are your Body Mass Index and your Waist to Hip Ratio.

Body Mass Index

Body Mass Index (BMI) takes into consideration both your gender and skeletal frame. The BMI reading is figured by dividing your weight in kilograms by the height in centimeters, squared. When converted to meters, the number will provide an estimate of risk of death related to obesity, the response level to low calorie diets and the response level to exercise and behavior changes.

Waist to Hip Ratio

The Waist to Hip Ratio is a simple way of looking at the pattern of fat distribution. Studies indicate that individuals carrying more fat in the abdominal area are at increased risk of high blood pressure, adult onset diabetes, heart disease and early death. The ratio is determined by dividing the circumference of the waist by the circumference of the hips. Ratios about 1.0 for men and 0.85 for women place a person in an increased risk category for disease. For more information on BMI and waist to hip ratios, call 605-322-6500.

To help reduce your ration and risk, get regular aerobic exercise and eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet.