In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including some of the most cherished medical myths out there. For our June 2012 issue, we asked a New York-based cardiologist about chest pain and heart attacks.
Atherosclerosis is common, unpredictable, and potentially deadly. Is there any good news? Because atherosclerosis takes decades to progress, the process can be slowed down at any point, reducing the risk.
Regardless of your age, there are specific steps you can take to slow down atherosclerosis. Take a moment to consider what changes you can make today, to protect your arteries later.
Preventing Atherosclerosis: In Your 20s and 30s
Almost no one develops complications from atherosclerosis at this age. Still, studies show the process has begun by our 20s or even younger. In these studies, risk factors mattered: young people with obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or who smoked had more-advanced early atherosclerosis.
Instead of treating atherosclerosis, the key here is developing good habits that will last a lifetime. Don't force it; instead, try to imagine how better habits might fit into your life.
Exercise: Make it a hobby to find some physical activity you enjoy. The idea of sticking to a boring, unpleasant exercise schedule for the next 40 years would send anyone to the couch. Experiment with different activities until you find something you like. If you get sick of that, try something else.
Diet: Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily is effective at preventing heart disease. Make it a habit to try something different in the produce aisle each time you hit the supermarket.
Preventing Atherosclerosis: In Your 40s and 50s
The rate of developing atherosclerosis accelerates in middle age, and so should your approach to reducing the risk.