You’re already familiar with the most common causes of cardiovascular disease and lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk. Research shows that smoking, excessive use of alcohol, eating a poor diet, being inactive, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, elevated lipids, and having a strong family history of heart disease increase the odds of developing cardiovascular disease. However, you might not be familiar with these factors that are also correlated with heart disease risk. Some may surprise you!
Being Angry or Hostile
Hopefully, you’re not a hostile person, as it could increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease. A study discussed in JAMA found that women with type 2 diabetes who ranked higher on a hostility scale had a 22% greater odds of developing a heart attack compared to those who ranked low in hostility. It’s not clear whether the same would be true for women without diabetes.
Why might hostility increase the odds of a heart attack? One theory is that hostility triggers stress-related inflammation. Being angry or hostile can also lead to a rise in blood pressure, an established risk factor for heart disease. If you feel angry or “stressed out,” don’t ignore those feelings. Your mind might benefit from meditation or another mind-body exercise that promotes calm and your heart will benefit as well!
Living Near a Busy Road
Living close to a busy road or highway may up your risk of cardiovascular disease too. A study that analyzed over 700 studies globally found that pollution from traveling cars ups the risk of lung disease, childhood asthma, death from cardiovascular disease and premature mortality. The greatest risks are for people living 300 to 500 meters from a highway or busy thoroughfare.
How might air pollution contribute to cardiovascular disease? Studies show ultra-fine particulate matter produced by vehicles may increase inflammation and that damages blood vessels, including those that carry blood to the heart. Plus, there’s the noise factor. Living near a highway is noisier and could cause problems sleeping or increase stress levels.
Another study looked at cardiac catheterization patients found those who lived within 0.6 miles of a highway or major thoroughfare were more likely to have peripheral artery disease and high blood pressure. Both conditions increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Being Short in Stature
A study of almost 200,000 people in the United Kingdom found a link between being under average height and a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. The correlation is most pronounced in men. In fact, for every 2.5 inches below average height, their risk of cardiovascular disease increased by 14% – but why? Shorter people are also more likely to have lipid abnormalities, including an elevated LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride level. The reason for the link may be genetic. Some genes that determine height also impact the odds of cardiovascular disease.
Being Isolated or Lonely
Humans are social animals that thrive on contact with others. In fact, the longest living cultures maintain strong social ties and are socially active throughout life. Such activity is beneficial to your heart! An analysis of 23 studies found that individuals who are socially isolated or lonely are at a 32% higher risk of stroke and a 29% greater risk of a heart attack. As the researchers point out, this is comparable to the risk of a heart attack among light smokers.
Cultivating social interaction is even more important as we age and we have fewer contacts with other people. But throughout life we can stay active by joining clubs or social groups, taking classes, or volunteering. Older folks confined to the house may benefit from having a pet to care for. In fact, research shows that dog owners have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a reduced risk of all-cause mortality. Why not adopt a canine best friend?
Having the Flu
Influenza lays you up for a time, but, hopefully, you recover after a few weeks. But what most people don’t realize is a bout of influenza boosts your odds of a heart attack by up to six times for up to a week afterward. The reason isn’t clear. One theory is that the same immune response your body uses to fight the flu triggers inflammation and increases the formation of clots. To lower your risk, get the seasonal influenza vaccine each year and practice good hygiene, such as hand washing, during flu season.
The Altitude Where You Live
Living at a high altitude, like the Rockies in Colorado, may protect against cardiovascular disease. Research shows people who live at altitudes between 457 and 2,297 meters are less likely to develop insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. When there are lower levels of oxygen in the air, as there is at high altitudes, your heart becomes a more efficient pump and that favors healthier heart function. Time to move to a higher elevation?
Having More Wrinkles
Strange but true. A study looked at the foreheads of 3,200 adults between the ages of 32 and 62 and graded their skin based on the number of wrinkles they had. After following the subjects for 20 years, the study found those with more forehead wrinkles had a higher rate of cardiovascular disease. The study only shows an association, but both the skin and inner walls of blood vessels contain collagen. Therefore, wrinkles may be a marker for damage to collagen and a higher risk of wrinkles and cardiovascular disease.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind, these are associations and don’t show causation. Also, the diet you eat and your lifestyle plays a more important role in whether you develop cardiovascular disease. In fact, the American Heart Association points out that 80% of heart disease and stroke are preventable through lifestyle. So, don’t become too concerned if you have wrinkles on your forehead or you live below sea level. Instead, focus on staying active. Also, eat a healthy, whole food diet, sleep at least seven hours nightly, and manage stress. These are factors you have control over–take advantage of it!
· Cleveland Clinic. “How Your Height Affects Your Risk of Heart Disease”
· JAMA. Volume 322, Number 16. October 22/29 2019.
· WebMD. “Surprising Things that Lead to Heart Disease”
· American Lung Association. “Living Near Highways and Air Pollution”
· Harvard Health Publishing. “Loneliness has same risk as smoking for heart disease”
· Front. Physiol., 04 January 2017 “Living at a Geographically Higher Elevation Is Associated with Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome: Prospective Analysis of the SUN Cohort”
· Health.com. “17 Weird Things That May Affect Your Heart Disease Risk”
· Heart.org. “CDC Prevention Programs”
· CDC.gov. “Heart Disease Risk Factors”
· Sci Rep. 2017; 7: 15821. Published online 2017 Nov 17. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-16118-6.
· CDC.gov. “Flu and Heart Disease & Stroke”
· Medical News Today. “Forehead wrinkles – an early sign of cardiovascular disease?”