Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death across the globe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The good news is that your risk for heart disease can often be reduced with preventative screenings and by modifying your diet, weight, physical activity level, and/or tobacco and alcohol use.
The first step to improving your heart health is to schedule an appointment with a health care provider to fill in the blanks on your heart health "numbers". For example, a simple cardiac profile screening can provide a good snapshot of a person's specific risk factors—such as elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and/or glucose in the blood stream.
Then, once you know your numbers, you can plug them into your wellness profile (formerly known as HRA) online for a clearer picture of your risk for heart disease. From there, we have information and resources on how to make necessary positive changes to lower your risks.
Here are six things you can do today to improve your heart health:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends tracking your body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and physical activity to know where you stand regarding your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure (or hypertension), diabetes, and other medical disorders.
BMI numbers can provide the average person a good idea of his or her overall health status. You can use the BMI calculator to the right to find out your index, as a ratio of your height and weight.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the heart. It can be a quick and easy measure of your heart and vascular health. Knowing these numbers can be a lifesaver. Systolic pressure is the measure of pressure when the heart beats. It's usually the higher number. Diastolic is the measure of the pressure when the heart is relaxed. Check your blood pressure at least every two years—more often, depending on your health care provider's recommendations—because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms.
|Desirable||less than 120 mmHG||less than 80 mmHG|
|At risk (pre-hypertension)||120-139 mmHG||80-89 mmHG|
|High||140 mmHG or higher||90 mmHG or higher|
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by your liver transported to and from cells by lipoproteins. Some types of cholesterol can facilitate healthy blood flow, while other types can start building up on the walls of your blood vessels and restrict the flow of blood to your heart and other organs.
Your cholesterol levels are another important indicator of heart health. A simple blood test can measure the different amounts of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Your health care provider can then determine what steps should be taken to lower them, if they're elevated.
|Total cholesterol||Less than 200 mg/dL|
|LDL ("bad" cholesterol)||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|HDL ("good" cholesterol)||60 mg/dL or higher|
|Triglycerides||Less than 150 mg/dL|
A test of your blood sugar levels after going eight hours or more without eating (a fasting glucose test) can give your health care provider an idea if you're at risk for diabetes or may already be showing signs of the disease. Simply losing 5 to 7 percent of your total body weight and eating healthier can often help you delay or possibly prevent type 2 diabetes if you are at risk for the disease. Uncontrolled diabetes can raise your risk for heart disease.
|Desirable||99 mg/dL or lower|
|At risk (pre-diabetes)||100 to 125|
|Diabetes||126 or above|
The wellness profile (or HRA) is a short survey—about 20 minutes—that you can take to review your daily lifestyle practices. Combined with results from your blood screening, it will help map out potential health risks, including those affecting your heart. This information can empower you to take a more active role in your health and lower your risk of heart disease.
Lower your risk for heart disease by:
A good place to start is with at least 30 minutes a day of moderately intense physical activity, such as taking a long, brisk walk. This can be broken down into smaller segments (for example, three segments of ten minutes each) as long as they add up to 30 minutes or more per day. Find some physical activity that you enjoy, so that you'll look forward to exercising and can reap the many health benefits of "getting physical."
Use the body mass index (BMI) calculator on this page to get your BMI. The desirable BMI range for the average person is between 18.5 and 24.9. If your BMI is above 25, start taking steps to lose weight today. Visit our "Healthy Weight, Healthy Living" page for effective and healthy ways to slim down.
Smoking is one of the single greatest health risk factors for heart disease. Quitting is not easy, but there are many smoking cessation programs available. Your agency may provide free one-on-one support to help you quit. Choose your agency from the drop down menu to get started. If your agency isn't listed in the drop down, you still have tobacco cessation support. Simply visit OPM's guide to find out how to access your service.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. A general rule of thumb for better health is to limit yourself to one drink or fewer per day if you're a woman and two drinks or fewer per day if you're a man. Visit our alcohol awareness page for more information on alcohol and heart disease.
In some cases, making these simple lifestyle changes may not be enough to significantly lower the risk for heart disease, so be sure to also talk with your health care provider.
Now is the best time to start making positive changes to lower your risk for heart disease. Often, all it takes are some simple—and consistent—lifestyle tweaks. Enjoy your new life and share your secrets with others to encourage them to stay healthy, too.