Know Your Risk Status

So I’ve been kind of MIA lately because I’m studying for my grad program’s comprehensive exam.  A little stressful but that means I’m THAT much closer to graduation!  While studying clinical exercise prescription, I realized that everyone should really know their risk status for cardiovascular disease.


In case you didn’t know, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US.  Heart disease is also the leading preventable cause of death, according to the CDC.  So if you haven’t already been hospitalized for a cardiac related incident, how do you know your risk status for developing cardiovascular disease?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the following conditions increase your risk for developing heart disease.  Note that some are modifiable, and some aren’t.  Give yourself 1 point for each one that applies to you:

  1. Age: Men 45 and older, and Women 55 and older.
  2. Family History: Occurrence of heart attack, heart surgery, or cardiac related death in a first degree relative (your mom, dad or sibling) at 55 or younger for males, and 65 and younger for females.
  3. Cigarette Smoking: Current smoker or having quit smoking within the last 6 months.  Also exposure to environmental smoke.
  4. Sedentary Lifestyle: If you do not exercise for at least 30 minutes 3 days a week for 3 consecutive months, according to ACSM.
  5. Obesity:  Having a BMI greater or equal to 30.  Here is a calculator if you don’t know your BMI.  NOTE BMI isn’t the most accurate measure of body fat, BUT high BMI is very well correlated to incidence of CVD.
  6. Hypertension: Having a systolic (thats the top number) pressure 140 or greater, OR having a diastolic (bottom number) 90 or greater, OR if you are already on anti hypertension medications.  If you don’t know your pressure, usually CVS will have the machines to check yours.
  7. High Cholesterol: You’ll have to get this checked by your doctor with a blood draw.  If you’re in college, you can get your blood lipids checked for 20 bucks or less usually at your university health center (thats what I did!). Having an LDL-C of 130 or greater, OR an HDL-C 40 or less, OR a total cholesterol of 200 or greater are all risk factors, as well as if you’re already on a lipid lowering medication.  Subtract 1 point from your score though if you have an HDL-C of 60 or higher!
  8. Prediabetes:  You’ll have to get your fasting glucose numbers or do a glucose intolerance test, which will usually be ordered by a doctor for a specific reason.  If your fasting glucose was 100 or greater, or if your impaired glucose tolerance test was between 140 and 200, give yourself a point.  If you don’t know, but do have a BMI of 30 or greater, ACSM assumes pre diabetes, so as a health and fitness professional I would have to give you a point as well.

Now add up your points:

  • If you have less than two points, you are at Low Risk.  Great job! Keep up your healthy habits, and make whatever necessary changes.  If you only had one point, but that point was something like smoking, try to aim for zero modifiable  risk factors.
  • If you have two or more points, you are at Moderate Risk.  Try to make whatever lifestyle changes you find necessary to reduce your risk.  You can stop smoking, consult a nutritionist on lowering sodium and lipids in your diet to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, or lose some weight.  You can’t change your age or family history, but there are plenty of other areas in which your health is in your hands.
  • If you are already diagnosed with a metabolic cardiac, or pulmonary disease, you are High Risk.  Again, you can’t change what you’ve been dealt, some people are genetically predisposed to these diseases.  But you can reclaim control over your life and health.  Aim to be the healthiest version of you!

For more information on heart disease, and what you can do to lower your risk, visit the American Heart Association website.  If you’re trying to quit smoking, find a place to start at

happy Wednesday!



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