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Heart health: Heart disease risk factors and ways you can get healthier

Heart health; hand holding heart

Every February is American Heart Month, which is pretty convenient with Valentine’s Day falling right in the middle. With that in mind, I have researched some facts about heart disease, risk factors, and ways you can improve your heart health.

Facts about Heart Disease

Here are some sobering statistics about heart health: “Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases kill over 800,000 Americans each year, accounting for one in every three deaths. It’s the nation’s number one killer among both men and women and the leading cause of health disparities across the population.”

Risk Factors: Conditions, Behaviors, and Family History

With one in three deaths being attributed to heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, you should know which conditions, behaviors and other factors affect your heart health.


The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list the following conditions as major contributors to poor heart health:

  • High blood pressure – considered a “silent killer” because many people don’t notice the symptoms
  • High cholesterol – Some cholesterol is “good,” and some is “bad.” High cholesterol refers to high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which are considered “bad” because they can lead to heart disease.
  • Diabetes – When the body doesn’t make enough insulin, can’t use its own insulin, or both, it causes sugar to build up in the blood
  • Obesity – Excess body fat, which is often linked to high LDLs (high cholesterol)


  • Unhealthy diet – A diet high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol
  • Not enough physical activity – A sedentary lifestyle can increase your chances of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Heavy drinking – It’s recommended that women have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day, while men should have no more than 2 per day
  • Smoking – Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart attack. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry.

Family History and Other Factors

Heart disease can be affected by your genetics (family history). High blood pressure and heart disease are hereditary. Your chances of getting heart disease also increase as you age, though men and women are equally affected.

Race and ethnicity play a role, too. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. For Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders and American Indians or Alaska Natives, heart disease is behind only to cancer.

Improving Your Heart Health

There are a number of things you can do to improve your heart health, including eating a low fat diet, quitting smoking, getting more exercise, and using prescription medications. If you have a consumer directed healthcare (CDH) account, like a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), Health Savings Account (HSA), or Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA), you can use those tax-free benefit dollars for a wide range of approved medical expenses.

Here is a list of eligible healthcare expenses which can go a long way towards improving your heart health:

  • Smoking cessation classes
  • Insulin and diabetic supplies
  • Prescription medications
  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Knee braces and orthopedic supports (to help you stay active)

Practice some self love – with this knowledge about heart health, you can take steps towards keeping your heart healthy.