Cardiovascular deaths worldwide see their annual peak in January, so with winter approaching and the holidays around the corner, it's important for people to have an accurate picture of their heart health and consider how to reduce their risk factors in 2022.
There are a number of factors that affect cardiovascular risk in an individual — diet, stress, physical fitness, family history of heart disease — but what does the research suggest is the most consequential?
On the latest edition of Hanging Out: Men's Health Radio, presented by Northwell Health, Drs. Lee Richstone and Seth Blacksburg explore all things heart health with their guest, Dr. Varinder M. Singh, the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Dr. Singh explains that in general no heart disease risk factor is more significant than family history — that is, having a close relative experience heart disease earlier than age 60. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking also raise warning flags. Furthermore, Dr. Singh says that people of South Asian descent, like himself, have such a high cardiovascular event rate that they are as a rule considered to be at high cardiovascular risk.
Of course, lots of Americans have at least one of those seven risk factors. Dr. Singh was asked to name the "highest yield lifestyle modification" to address cardiac risk. He replied that it's important to separate factors you can and cannot control. You can't do anything about your family history of heart disease, but you can take steps every day to reduce your personal risk.
"Let's say your are [genetically] programmed to have a heart attack in your 50s. If you are controlling your diabetes and you're not smoking and you have your cholesterols together and you're active into your 80s and your 90s, you may have passed from something else before [heart disease] even becomes expressed," Dr. Singh says. "That's a really, really important thing.
"I have patients, Lee, who have this really strong family history and they might be 75 years old when they have their heart attack. They come in and they say, 'I've known about this my whole life. I've always eaten well, I've always exercised, I watch my blood pressures, I keep my sugars in control. I've done everything I could possibly do.' And they're devastated. They feel like there's nothing they could do. And that's not true. I say, because you did all of those things, this disease expressed itself later in life. if you hadn't done all of those things, you would have had this when you were 40 years old. That's a very big difference in your outcome dealing with an aggressive disease like cardiovascular disease."