Risk Factors for Atherosclerosis

1)   Genetics - your own family's history of heart disease/stroke.

2)  Obesity.

3)  Cholesterol Level - less than 200 in general; also LDL cholesterol, homocysteine, fibrinogen, low-density lipoprotein, and C reactive protein.

4)  Hypertension-a blood pressure over 130 systolic or 90 diastolic.

5)  Smoking.

6)  Diabetes.

7)  Level of Activity - all persons should do 20 minutes of Aerobic Exercise three times a week.  Aerobic exercise is defined by the heart rate.  There are published tables for desired heart rates for different ages of life.  If you do an activity that gets your heart rate in the target area, then that is aerobic exercise.  Common  types of aerobic exercise are jogging, Jane Fonda type exercises, a rowing machine, treadmill, stepper, cardioglide machine, cross country skier machine.  Walking, playing golf or tennis, even racquetball are not aerobic exercise, because the heart rate doesn't get high enough. 

Athero (fat), sclerosis (hardening) means hardening of the arteries and is a generalized disease process affecting all the major arteries in the body, mainly the heart and arteries to the brain.  Atherosclerosis is a complex, multifactorial disease process with genetic and environmental factors. In the United States the number one cause of death over age 50 is heart disease from atherosclerosis.  The number three cause of death is stroke, again from atherosclerosis.  Statins are the "chemical roto-rooters" that decrease cholesterol levels.  Surgeons may clean out arteries and cardiologists may stent arteries in selected cases if the disease process is focally present in one area, like the carotid artery going to the brain, or a coronary artery supplying the heart.  The idea is to try to live a type of life that reduces the risk factors of atherosclerosis--quit smoking, lose weight, treat hypertension, care for your diabetes, watch your cholesterol and take a statin if it’s too high, and exercise aerobically.

A research report studying 40,000 patients for 40 years showed that persons who exercised lived two years longer than persons who did not.  This was at Framingham, Massachusetts, the oldest heart disease study group in America.

Exercise may be considered to be like a drug.  It promotes the relaxing response, helps reduce tension, and increases endorphins which are internal brain chemicals that decrease pain.  Exercise may help migraine, tension type headache, anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, and depression.