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Risk reduction best weapon in preventing heart disease

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Nearly 1 million people die of cardiovascular disease every year. Of that number, fewer than 6,000 deaths stem from heart defects people have from birth, according to a news release from St. John's Health System.

Individuals can find out what their personal risk factors for heart disease are by getting a cardiovascular health risk assessment from their physician or through a community health screening, and St. John's Hammons Heart Institute staff members offer education about how to reduce risk factors and drastically slow the development of cardiovascular disease.

"The earlier in life you make healthful changes, the more you can reduce risk," said Dr. Kelvin VanOsdol, St. John's cardiologist, in the release.

Major risk factors that can be modified are high blood pressure, tobacco use, elevated blood cholesterol and physical inactivity.

High blood pressure (hypertension) increases risk for a cardiac event because pressure damages artery walls and speeds up the build up of fatty plaque. Blood pressure is considered high if it stays above 139/89 for several readings.

VanOsdol said high blood pressure can be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes that often include weight loss.

St. John's Hammons Heart Institute offers the following tips for reducing risk for high blood pressure:

?Have periodic checkups with a primary care provider

?Follow advice to reduce salt intake

?Reach and maintain a healthy weight

?Exercise 3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.

?Take a natural antioxidant daily, such as natural vitamin C, vitamin E or beta carotene.

Blood cholesterol levels are influenced by cholesterol manufactured by the body for many bodily functions and by a diet high in fat and cholesterol-rich foods.

Total cholesterol is a combination of the HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol).

People with too little HDL or too much LDL are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

How to reduce risk from cholesterol:

?Learn your cholesterol levels

?Plan how you will change your diet

?Eat fewer foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats

?Eat at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables

?Monitor your blood fat levels with regular checkups.

The nicotine in cigars, cigarettes, pipes and smokeless tobacco increases heart rate and blood pressure and constricts the arteries.

Substances found in tobacco smoke damage artery linings and can cause artery muscles to spasm, reducing blood flow to the heart.

How to reduce risk from smoking:

?Stop smoking now

?Take part in a support group or education program if you need help

?Exercise 3-5 times each week for at least 30 minutes each time.

Being inactive may cause the muscles, including the heart, to lose efficiency. People who are physically active have fewer heart attacks, VanOsdol said. Exercise lowers blood pressure, raises HDL levels and strengthens muscles.

How to reduce risk from inactivity:

?Follow an exercise program

?Plan time for aerobic exercise such as walking, climbing stairs, biking, dancing and swimming

?Start out slowly, increase gradually and never quit.

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