Risk factors to watch for health

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape this year?

Many people have the same resolution. A healthy lifestyle leads to a better life.

Reports from the University of Michigan Health System indicate that even people who think they’re healthy may be headed for trouble.

Many doctors believe that there are five basic risk factors that can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

Anyone with three of these risk factors is at especially high risk, University of Michigan Health System experts said.

What individuals need to do is to find out if they have three of the five risk factors, and take action to reduce them.

The five key risk factors to look at are:

– Blood pressure that’s at or above 135/95, or that’s being lowered by drugs.

– Weight, especially if it’s concentrated around the middle rather than the hips, causing a waist measurement more than 40 inches in men, or 35 inches in women.

– Blood sugars more than 100 on a test conducted in the morning before breakfast.

– Triglycerides, a kind of fat in the blood, especially if it measures more than 150.

– Good cholesterol levels that are lower than 40 in men or 50 in women.

Alone, none of these risk factors is anything to worry about, experts say.

However, if an individual has three of the five, they are setting themselves up for heart attacks, strokes, surgery, and lots of medications later in life.

The medical name for this collection of risks is metabolic syndrome, also called syndrome X, University of Michigan Health System experts explained.

People with metabolic syndrome are two to four times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and five times more likely to have diabetes over the long term.

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease, but a warning sign that your body is not able to deal with the built-up effects of diet, lifestyle and inherited characteristics.

People with metabolic syndrome can take action on their own, or with a doctor’s help.

If an individual is overweight, he or she should get tested. Then, they should start making changes that are specific to their risk factors.

The specific steps to take are the same ones doctors have been telling heart and diabetes patients to do for years:

– Exercise: Whether it’s walking, jogging, sports, aerobic dancing or swimming, just moving more than you already do can make a big difference. If you’re not active now, find activities that you like and find time to do them. Exercise can help you burn calories, whittle away your body fat, and reduce your blood pressure, bad cholesterol and blood sugar.

– Eat smarter: Choose foods that have good fats, reduce or eliminate foods that have cholesterol and sugar, and increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables and whole grains you eat. What you eat, and how much, can make a big difference in all the metabolic syndrome risk factors.

– Stop smoking: Smoking stiffens your blood vessel walls, causing your blood pressure to go up. It also aggravates the inflammation in your blood vessels that can combine with high cholesterol to create clots and plaque that can lead to chest pain, heart attacks and stroke.

– Deal with stress: Stress can aggravate your blood pressure and get in the way of health. Identify the sources of stress in your life and take steps to reduce them or address them in a new way.

Parents who decide to make a lifestyle change should also check the health of their children and grandchildren.

One in 20 American children has several metabolic syndrome risk factors already, but their parents don’t know it, officials said.

About metabolic syndrome:

– Metabolic syndrome isn’t a disease, but rather a condition where a person has a least three of five risk factors that increase their chance of developing heart disease and diabetes.

– As many as one in five Americans may have three of the five metabolic syndrome risk factors, and most don’t know it. People who are overweight, especially those who carry that extra weight in their midsections, are most likely to have metabolic syndrome.

– The risk factors involve blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, blood triglycerides, and blood levels of HDL or good cholesterol. While there is some debate of the exact levels or measurements where risk begins, the general idea is that high-normal and higher-than-normal, levels are a concern – except in HDL cholesterol where higher is better.