Researchers have put a cold, hard number on your risk for the leading man-killer, and it's downright staggering. The average middle-age man has a 60 percent risk of developing heart disease in his lifetime, a new study finds.
But you don't have to settle for average. Guys with no risk factors for heart disease were able to put off their first heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event by up to 14 years. That's compared to men who had two or more of four risk factors: diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Your Risk in Perspective
Odds of two in three over a lifetime sound scary -- and they are "massive," says study author John T. Wilkins, M.D., M.S., of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Even men with none of the four risk factors at age 55 had about a 40 percent lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease.
The key word, though, is lifetime. For the study, to be published in the November 7 issue of JAMA, the researchers followed five large groups of participants for as long as they lived, up to 85 or 95 years.
For middle-aged and younger guys, the key is taking steps to ward off risk factors before they become a problem, rather than treating your blood pressure or cholesterol after it's already high, Dr. Wilkins says. "If you do all you can to maintain as optimal a risk profile as possible, these data strongly suggest you're going to live a lot longer and a lot healthier," Dr. Wilkins says. Take this 3-minute quiz to assess your risk.
Besides the standard heart-health advice -- working out regularly and maintaining a healthy weight -- here's how to tackle each of the risk factors cited in the study. (Bored with running? Mix up your routine with one of our 3 New Cardio Workouts.)
High blood pressure: Skip the sugary soda. Drinking just one less can of cola per day is linked to a blood pressure reading that's 1.8 mm/Hg lower on top and 1.1 mm/Hg lower on bottom, according to a 2010 study in Circulation. (Blend a blueberry smoothie instead -- another recent study found the fruit may bring your readings down.)
Diabetes: Unglue your butt from your seat. British researchers analyzed 15 previous studies and found people who spent the most time sedentary had more than twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as those who spent the least time at rest. Is your office chair killing you? Find out -- and learn what to do about it -- in the Men's Health special report Sentenced to the Chair.
Cholesterol: Snack on nuts. About two and a half ounces of nuts per day dropped total cholesterol levels 5.1 percent and LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels 7.4 percent after three to eight weeks, Loma Linda University researchers found.
Smoking: "Obviously, do not start," Dr. Wilkins says. If you're already a smoker, put some cash on the line to help you quit. Growing research suggests financial incentives can help smokers kick the habit, say University of Vermont researchers in the journal Preventive Medicine. Websites like stickK let you set a goal, enter your credit card number, and charge you when you fail -- sending the proceeds to a person or organization you pick ahead of time.
Of course, these aren't the only things that up your odds of heart disease, Dr. Wilkins clarifies. But they did the best job of assessing people's risks in the study, and also tend to go hand in hand with other important dangers, such as obesity and a large waist. And don't think you're off the hook just because you're skinny -- click here to see if you have The Thin Man's Heart Threat.
More from MSN Healthy Living:
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- 7 crazy things testosterone does in your body
- Bing: Signs of heart disease
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