American Heart Month: Modify, Treat, and Control Your Risk Factors

American Heart Month is February and there is one big threat standing between us and our happy healthy relationship with our heart and circulatory systems.  Cardiovascular disease is the danger! The CDC reports that one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 659,000 people in the United States die from heart disease each year—that's 1 in every 4 deaths. This February, or heart month, it is important to be cognizant of the preventable risk factors of CVD and take active steps to control these factors.  

While there are some major risk factors that can’t be changed, which cause an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as: increasing age, being a male, and genetics including being a particular race.  There are many risk factors that we can altogether eliminate or majorly reduce! Modifying these risk factors can prevent cardiovascular disease. 

Risk Factors to Control Today

People with type 2 diabetes have a much higher likelihood of developing CVD.  Often type 2 and cardiovascular disease go hand in hand. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. Additionally, type 2’s can have problems with obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Let’s take a look at each preventable risk factor and how type 2’s can modify and control them. 


Smoking is the most preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Smokers (including cigarette, pipe, and cigar smokers) have more than twice the risk of a heart attack than nonsmokers. Smoking is also the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. 

Johns Hopkins reports the effects of smoking on your heart and circulatory system, stating that smoking…

  • Causes an instant and long-term rise in blood pressure.
  • Causes an instant and long-term increase in heart rate.
  • Reduces blood flow from the heart.
  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues.
  • Increases risk for blood clots.
  • Damages blood vessels.
  • Doubles the risk of stroke (reduced blood flow to the brain).

If you don’t smoke, smoking can still put you at risk of cardiovascular disease through second hand smoking conditions. “The CDC says about 34,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is smoke exhaled by smokers. It also includes smoke from the burning end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe.”  

Quitting smoking at (any age) will improve your health and reduce risks of CVD and a variety of cancers.  For more information on how to quit smoking today, check out these great resources from the CDC including: how to make a quit plan, quit smoking medicines, support groups, and quit applications on your phone!


Many times we associate being fat or having problems with our weight based on what we can see.  This subcutaneous fat, the fat that sits right under our skin can affect how we feel about ourselves and our ability to live and exercise comfortably.  However, it is the fat that we can’t see, the visceral fat, that puts us at risk.  This is the fat that surrounds our internal organs such as our heart and liver and is a risk factor for CVD.

Being overweight can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack.  Additionally, visceral fat can raise your blood cholesterol, increase your blood pressure and contribute further to type 2 diabetes. 

To lose weight and reduce your BMI, plan a daily healthy diet and plan daily exercise.  You should have a weekly routine for a healthy diet and active lifestyle.  Both portion sizes, the foods you choose and the calories you eat vs. the calories you burn contribute to you losing weight and reducing your body fat percentage.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and leads to heart disease. Many people don’t know if or when they have high blood pressure.  The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have a health care professional or doctor measure it. If high blood pressure is common in your family or something you need to regularly measure there are options for you to monitor it at home. 

The great thing about lowering your blood pressure is that MOST of the things we already discussed also lower your blood pressure and contribute to healthier cholesterol levels! To decrease blood pressure, you should modify your diet, increase daily activity, and quit smoking.  Reducing the amount of sodium, alcohol and caffeine may also help. 

For those of us with type 2, we must be sure to work with our doctors to manage it, and control any other risk factors that we can. To help manage blood sugar, people with diabetes who are obese or overweight should make lifestyle changes, such as eating better or getting regular physical activity. For more information on how you can modify, treat and control our risk factors today and every day this month, join our online community Winning Type 2 Diabetes Together