How to Stay Young (At Heart)

12092Ashley Lewis, MD, FACC, RPVI, is a cardiologist at UNC REX Healthcare. She is board certified in general cardiology and is registered in vascular imaging. She is a general cardiologist with interventional training and has specific interests in coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, congestive heart failure, peripheral artery disease and heart disease in women. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Have you seen the recent news about heart age? Do you know your heart’s age? Learning about your heart age will give you a general indication of your current heart health and of what lifestyle-related factors may affect your heart health.

According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, if your predicted heart age is older than your actual age, you may be at a higher risk for a heart attack or stroke.


How can you prevent your heart from aging too fast? UNC REX Cardiologist Dr. Ashley Lewis names the most common risk factors to look for when it comes to protecting yourself from heart disease.

Your age and gender: “Though women are at a lower risk for heart disease than men, their chances increase after the age of 55,” says Dr. Lewis. “Once men reach the age of 45, they are at risk for heart disease.”

Your family history: You are at a greater risk of developing heart disease if you have a first-degree relative (i.e. mother, father, brother or sister) who’s suffered from heart disease before the age of 55 for males or before the age of 65 for females.

“Family history is a significant risk factor, so we always take that into account when it comes to our patients’ heart health,” Dr. Lewis says.

High Blood Pressure: According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, also called hypertension.

“For adults, a healthy blood pressure is a systolic blood pressure less than 140 and a diastolic blood pressure less than 90. There are some populations, like people with diabetes or kidney disease, where the goal blood pressure is even lower,” says Dr. Lewis.

High Cholesterol: Cholesterol is found in your blood and the food that you eat. Elevated levels of cholesterol in your blood leads to build-up of a soft, waxy substance along the walls of your heart arteries called plaque and this can form a blockage, making it difficult for your heart to circulate blood appropriately. This can cause a heart attack.

Smoking: Tobacco abuse is one of the top two leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“Second-hand smoke exposure does not come without risk as well, and is often overlooked,” says Dr. Lewis.

Weight: A normal body mass index is anywhere between 18 and 24. Controlling your weight decreases your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

“Obesity contributes to a domino effect; once you develop high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol you’re at risk for developing heart disease, kidney disease, and/or stroke,” Dr. Lewis says.

Diabetes: Diabetes is a disorder that disrupts the way your body uses glucose (sugar). Type 1 diabetes develops in children or young adults and is a condition that occurs when the pancreas makes little or no insulin. Whereas, Type 2 diabetes more often occurs in adults and is a disorder where the cells of the body do not respond to insulin; this is called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity and abnormalities in cholesterol levels.

The only benefit in having Type 2 diabetes is that if patients choose to make drastic changes in their lifestyle including exercise, weight loss and good blood sugar management, they are actually able to resolve their condition,” says Dr. Lewis.

Are you young or old at heart? Determine your heart age with this simple quiz.
Take a free, confidential online heart risk assessment with Heart Aware and you may be eligible for a free follow-up screening by a physician from UNC REX Healthcare.

Learn more about UNC REX heart and vascular care

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