How to lower your risk of heart disease

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Heart disease is the number one killer in America, but you can significantly lower your risk through some simple lifestyle changes. Here is vital information from Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

How to lower your risk of heart disease

It’s important to understand that heart disease is due to risk factors, and if we understand our risks we can reduce them. In 1948, the Framingham Risk Score Analysis began to track heart disease risk factors and develop a profile of who was at risk.

  • The Framingham Risk Score Analysis looked at lifestyle risk factors—age, high blood pressure, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and smoking. Now we know of more risk factors:
  • Inflammatory markers, something called CRP, diabetes is an important risk factor, and family history. A sedentary life style, stress, obesity, all come into play when you look at an individual’s risk.

How to Minimize Your Risk of Heart Disease:

Certain people are clearly at greater risk, but those of us who exercise, eat well, and don’t have family history are in fact, not really at risk.

  • 80 percent of incidences of heart disease could be modified by lifestyle changes.
  • If you have two or more risk factors, and you take a baby aspirin, 81 milligrams daily, and a medication such as statin, you exercise, you eat well, your chances of getting heart disease go down significantly.


Women don’t think heart disease is a woman’s problem, but that’s a big mistake. Women are at risk their whole lives if they don’t take care of themselves.

  • It only takes 30 minutes of exercise a day to protect your heart. But you don’t have to do it all at once. If you spend 20 minutes, dancing and playing with your baby, or climbing the stairs, you will increase your heart rate. If you can get your heart rate up 30 minutes a day, over the course of the whole day, not even all at once, that’s protective for your heart.
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I'm Lisa Birnbach for Howdini. The fight against heart disease is a good news, bad news story. It remains by far and away the biggest killer in this country, but the good news is there are definite things each of us can do to reduce our risk. Here to talk about how we can improve our chances of staying heart-healthy is Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist specializing in women's heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Hi, Doctor.

 

Hi.

 

What can we do?

 

It's really important to understand that heart disease is due to risk factors. And so we really have to be aware of our own personal risk of developing heart disease. Years ago, 1948, the Framingham Risk Score Analysis was started. And it was published in 1961. And essentially it showed us what lifestyle risk factors lead to heart disease. It looked at age, high blood pressure, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and also smoking. Using these risk factors, it gave us a 10-year analysis of what our risk for developing heart disease is. We know now that there might be other risk factors that come into play, in terms of your risk of developing heart disease. Inflammatory markers, something called a CRP, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Diabetes is very important. Family history, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, obesity-- all of these different factors come into play when we look at one's individual risk of developing heart disease.

 

Based on what you said, is there anyone who isn't at risk for heart disease at some point?

 

I think that there are certain group of people, clearly, that possess these risk factors, that are at risk. But those of us that exercise, that eat well, that we're lucky enough not to be born into a family that has a significant risk of heart disease, are, in fact, not at risk. But let me tell you this. 80% of those incidences of heart disease is due to modifiable risk factors, like high blood pressure, like high cholesterol, like diabetes, and smoking. So, in fact, if you control these four variables, your likelihood of developing heart disease is really low.

 

What about pills? I know that a lot of people are taking pills to reduce their cholesterol, their bad cholesterol. If you carefully take that pill every day, are you going to really make heart disease something not to worry about?

 

Let's assume that you are at risk, that in fact you have two or more risk factors. And you take an aspirin, a baby aspirin, 81 milligrams, daily. You take a medication such as a statin, to decrease your LDL cholesterol. You exercise. You eat well. The chances of you developing heart disease go down significantly.

 

So, Doctor, women feel like, it's not going to happen to us. It might happen to our husband. Might happen to our brother. But that's a bad way to think, isn't it?

 

It's a terrible way to think. In fact, women are at risk for heart disease their whole lives, if in fact they don't take care of themselves. Women tend to put themselves last. It only requires 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week, to be protective of your heart.

 

It doesn't sound like much. And listening to you, I think, I could do that. But I know that I don't always do that.

 

Well I don't always get to do that. But here's the thing. Climbing up and down the stairs, dancing with your baby, and singing songs, and jumping together, all of these things actually increase your heart rate. And if you do that for 20 minutes at a time. And during the day you actually can do 10 minutes of climbing up and down the stairs. That's 30 minutes of getting your heart rate up. We know you don't need 30 minutes of going to the gym and focusing, though it's better for your mind. We know that we need 30 minutes, in total, of getting your heart rate up.

 

Well, that seems doable.

 

It is doable.

 

Thank you. For Howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum

    Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum Cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, NY Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum is an attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She is often cited in magazines and newspapers and is regularly seen on network news health segments for ABC, NBC and CBS. more about this expert »

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