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Hal Higdon's 7-7-70 Quest - What's Your Heart Risk"

Can you predict your likelihood of suffering a heart attack? Not with any certainty, but individuals possessing several of the following risk factors are more likely to suffer coronary heart disease.

1. Genes
: If a close relative (parents, siblings) suffered a heart attack before age 55, you also are at risk. Many other risk factors are genetic.

2. Age
: Risk rises as you age. More than three times as many people over age 65 die of heart attacks each year vs. those under that age. One reason: Blood vessels become less pliable with age, restricting circulation.

3. Genes
: Males die more often, and at younger ages, than females--although after menopause, risks for females increase.

4. Blood Pressure
: High blood pressure places more stress on the heart. You want your resting systolic pressure to be under 130, your diastolic pressure below 70. As numbers rise above 130/70, risk also rises.

5. Smoking
: More smokers (130,000) die each year from heart attacks than from lung cancer. Nicotine reduces HDL levels and raises your blood pressure. Smoking also increases blood-clotting.

6. Cholesterol
: Too much cholesterol in your blood stream causes plaque to build up and clog your arteries. To reduce risk, keep your total cholesterol number under 200, your LDL cholesterol level below 130. To reduce risk further, push your LDL below 100--although drug intervention may be necessary.

7. Body Fat
: If you are more than 20 percent above normal body weight, you are considered "obese." Obesity contributes to most of the other risk factors, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

8. Diabetes
: Eighty percent of people with diabetes die of some form of heart disease. Diabetes is a hereditary problem that affects the body's ability to utilize insulin. Clogged arteries are one side effect.

9. Stress
: Scientists don't exactly know why, but anxiety apparently strains both the heart and linings of the artery. If you fail to manage stress in your life, your risk increases.

10 Inactivity
: Failing to exercise can put you at risk, since the "easy" stress of exercise can moderate many of the above risk factors. A fit heart pumps 25 percent more blood at rest and 50 percent more during exercise, thus is less subject to strain when demands increase.

Several of the above risk factors (genes, age sex) cannot be changed. Most of the others can at least be moderated if you exercise and eat properly, the keys to preventing coronary heart disease. For additional information on-line about risk factors, visit John Hopkins Health Information or the American Heart Association Web site.

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