Do you know the ABC'S of managing heart risks? It's actually pretty easy to remember. A stands for aspirin — take it if your doctor has given it to you as a daily medication. B is for blood pressure — keep an eye on your numbers. C is for cholesterol — if you're on this site, you're already thinking about your cholesterol levels. And S is for smoking. Smoking is one of the biggest risks to your heart, and it is wholly within your control.
There are always things to consider when it comes to heart health. We all want to be as healthy as possible, but, when there are so many risk factors, it's hard to weigh one against the other. Unless you are superhuman, there is little chance of you lowering all your risk factors simultaneously. And the question comes up: What's more dangerous, being overweight or smoking? If you quit smoking and gain weight, have you made any progress at all?
"Smoking is at or near the top of the list of risks, no matter how much weight you've gained," said preventive cardiologist Dr. Luke Laffin. "No one argues with the idea that smoking is bad for the heart. It also increases blood pressure and the risk of lung cancer." But, he went on to say, "Obesity is similar to smoking, in that there is nothing good about it."
It's a frustrating answer. We would rather have a clear-cut "worst risk."
"Some cardiovascular risk factors are worse than others," said Dr. Laffin. "Everyone is different, though, so each patient's plan requires a personalized approach."
Research that looked at data from millions of people found that smoking even one cigarette a day can impact heart health. Compared to non-smokers, women who had one cigarette a day had a 119 percent higher risk for heart disease and a 46 percent higher risk of having a stroke. Men had a 74 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 30 higher risk of having a stroke. That was just one cigarette! Additionally, black smokers may be at a higher risk than white smokers for strokes.
With these answers in mind, it might be best to speak to your doctor. It's also good to evaluate yourself. What risk factors do you see yourself realistically reducing? Setting a goal you can meet can sometimes be better than reaching for something pie in the sky. Talk it over with your doctor to decide what risk factors you want to tackle and what your heart-healthy future looks like.