When people talk about heart disease, they’re typically referring to coronary artery disease which is the most common type of heart disease, causing more than 370,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Unfortunately, because it’s so common, you likely have a family member who has coronary artery disease.
You should know your family history of heart disease. If you are at increased risk based on your family history, that doesn’t mean you need to panic. Disease is not imminent. Many factors, not just your genetics, play a big role in keeping your heart healthy.
Family history of heart disease allows you to see the combination of genetics and environmental risk factors, which when combined, can lead to disease. Although you can’t control your genetics, you do have it within your power to change your environmental risk factors. That means lowering your risk by changing your behaviors.
A recent study looked at genetic risk for developing heart disease. The study’s participants were determined to be at higher risk of having a heart attack based on their genetics. When they changed their behaviors and lived a healthier lifestyle, they were able to drastically reduce their risk by about 50 percent. That means that environmental risk factors play an extremely important role in determining your heart health.
Lifestyle changes that can help protect your heart include:
- Ditching tobacco of any kind. Quit smoking, no chewing tobacco and no vaping.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Moderate consumption is no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women.
- Eat well. A Mediterranean style diet centered around fruits, veggies, grains, and nuts with limited processed and sugary treats is recommended.
- Get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five days a week.
- Know your numbers. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
“Although family history matters, if your parents have heart disease that does not mean you’re automatically destined to have the same fate,” says Shug-Hong Young, MD, cardiologist. You’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your heart and your health. Even if genetics aren’t on your side, you still have the power to take control and live a long, heart healthy life, “your destiny is in your own hands,” Dr. Young says.