A heart attack occurs when the blood flow bringing oxygen to the heart is cut off. Factors such as lifestyle, family history, and age contribute to this narrowing and blockage of the arteries. Knowing your health status and where you stand with these factors will help you predict your risk.
Body Mass Index
Body Mass Index (BMI) is determined by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. The resulting number is used to categorize your weight status as normal (18.5 to 24.9), overweight (25 to 29.9), and obese (30 and greater). BMI has been used for many years as a tool to predict health risk, but researchers now recognize its limitations. While it may no longer be the best predictor for heart disease, it remains a simple tool to help you keep your weight in check. Aiming for a healthy weight can help you reduce the health risks that come with being overweight, including heart disease and heart attack. (Calculate your BMI.)
Many researchers now believe that waist measurements are better predictors for heart attack risk than BMI. A waist-to-hip ratio measurement estimates your body fat pattern. People who have an apple shape carry more weight around the middle. Apples are considered at greater risk because of visceral fat (the dangerous fat stored around the organs linked to disease). Pear-shaped individuals carry less weight around the middle and more weight around the hips and thighs which is not considered as dangerous as belly fat. Waist-to-hip ratio is determined by dividing the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips. Men should aim for a value less than 1.0, and women should aim for less than 0.8. (Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio.)
Another measurement used to estimate visceral fat is waist circumference. There is some debate as to whether waist-to-hip ratio or the waist circumference measurement is a better predictor of heart attack. Some studies state waist circumference as the preferred method. Others indicate that when only a waist measurement is used, the risk is underestimated. Consider using both methods to better determine your risk. Men should aim for a waist circumference of less than 40 inches (102 centimeters), and women less than 35 inches (88 centimeters).
Elevated blood cholesterol increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that adults have their cholesterol tested once every 5 years. If your total cholesterol is greater than 200 mg/dL it is considered borderline high, putting you at greater risk for heart disease. Healthy eating and increased physical activity can help you lower your cholesterol to normal levels.
High blood pressure (hypertension) puts stress on the blood vessels causing damage that leads to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. You can reduce your risk by incorporating healthier habits such as nutritious eating, exercise, and stress reduction activities.
mmHg (upper #)
mmHg (upper #)
|Hypotension||Less than 90||Less than 60|
|High Blood Pressure
Stage 1 Hypertension
|High Blood Pressure
Stage 2 Hypertension
|160 or higher||100 or higher|
Emergency Care Needed
|180 or higher||110 or higher|
A fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or above is an indicator of insulin resistance. When insulin is not working effectively to help cells absorb blood glucose, this puts you at risk for elevated blood sugar, which leads to diabetes. Since high blood sugar damages arteries, diabetes is another risk factor for heart disease.
Smoking and Secondhand Smoke
Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke damages the arteries and causes deposits of cholesterol to collect on arterial walls. Over time this decreases blood flow, increasing risk of heart attack. Limit your exposure to secondhand smoke, and if you smoke, stop. Talk to your doctor about the many successful programs that can help you stop smoking and improve your health.