Many factors can influence heart health

The basics are that heart disease is the No. 1 health risk for women, and you increase your risk if you have high blood pressure, high total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol and are overweight.

You can improve your chances by staying or getting slim, reducing your stress, not smoking or drinking to excess, and staying active with a planned exercise program. However, just because you’re slim doesn’t mean that your blood pressure or your cholesterol is not too high. Sometimes, it boils down to genetics, so we need to think about some factors that can reduce your risk.

If hypertension (high blood pressure) or hyperlipidemia ( high cholesterol ) runs in your family you are likely at greater risk, and therefore must be careful to do everything you can to keep those levels as under control as possible.

What is considered healthy is a total cholesterol under 200 mg/dl, and LDL (the bad one) reading of under 100mg/dl, a HDL chdolesterol (the good one) over 60mg/dl and a triglyceride reading of under 150 mg/dl. You want your blood pressure to be around 120/80 mm Hg.

You might also have a healthy body mass index (under 25) but if you store fat around your middle and have high amounts of visceral fat, you will have higher levels of cytokines that secrete inflammatory compounds that negatively affect your heart.

Those with high levels of visceral fat (the kind that surrounds your liver, your pancreas and intestines) are more likely to have substantial elevations in metabolic risk factors such as high blood sugar and triglycerides.

I’ve always considered the BMI a fairly poor measure of anything, because all it is, is a ratio of your weight to your height. It doesn’t tell anyone what their body fat level is or where that fat is being stored.

Better measurements are the percent body fat measure that tells you how much of your body is lean and how much is fat, and also the waist girth/hip girth comparison which also indicates if you store fat around the middle of your body.

For a woman, if her waist is larger than 35 inches, it puts that woman at an increased risk for heart disease. (For men it is generally accepted as greater than 40 inches circumference at the waist is dangerous).

The body percent fat for a woman is generally considered to be healthy if it is between 19 to 25 percent and for a man healthy if it is between 15 and 19 percent. Very athletic people will be more muscle and less fat.

Sleep deprivation increases the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and therefore raises the inflammatory cytokines. Both these compounds promote heart disease by increasing blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Experts agree that people who get less than five hours of sleep per night have about 50 percent more calcium in their coronary (heart) arteries than those who get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Calcium in the heart arteries is an early marker of heart disease.

A study in 2015 in Korea found that people who sleep nine or more hours per night had 72 percent more coronary calcium than those who average seven hours. Looks like seven to eight hours per night is just about right.

The same study noted that the quality of sleep mattered, too. Those people who reported poor sleep quality had an increased level of calcium as well.

Exercise is one of the best things that you can do to help prevent and to combat heart disease. Researchers at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center published a recent study that found that people with coronary artery disease who exercise can develop bypass channels around the blockages in their arteries.

The statistics show that those who are in the best physical condition in their later years (after 55) are those who have 37 percent less likelihood of having a stroke after the age of 65.

Because heart disease and even heart attacks can be silent, if you experience any signs of heart disease or heart attack such as shortness of breath, back pain, jaw pain, nausea or fatigue especially if you have a history or a family history of heart disease, get it checked out by your doctor.

Exercise with resistance training at least two to three times a week and do aerobic exercise most days, eat low fat and low sugar and try to keep your stress under control. We want you around for as long as possible. Aloha!


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached, (808) 212-8119 cell/text, and


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