So does family history seal our fate?
We don't know the ins and outs of Bob Harper's lifestyle or the circumstances surrounding his heart attack at the gym. But family history is just that, history. It doesn't mean your fate is sealed. We know heart disease is common, taking the top spot as leading cause of death in the United States. However, there are many risk factors that can be addressed through lifestyle changes.
Heart disease risk factors include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity/being overweight, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol consumption, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Untreated sleep apnea and stress can also contribute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says, as may inflammation, indicated by high levels of a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood, which is currently being studied more.
However, family history can elevate your risk of having a heart attack or developing another form of heart disease. While heart attack risk tends to go up with age, there are genetic conditions that may cause a young person to have a heart attack, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, which may be as common as 1 in 250 people worldwide.
So while your genetics may increase your risk, keep in mind that so do various other environmental and lifestyle factors. You can be proactive and lower your overall risk by changing some of the aforementioned behaviors that increase your chances of getting heart disease.
You can also get preventive screenings and tests done before symptoms emerge so you can work with a knowledgeable health care professional to decrease your risk. One way to get insight into your genetic predisposition is by genome sequencing. My test results told me my risk of heart attack is "moderate high." The good news is I can be proactive and make healthy lifestyle changes now, including eating a healthy diet with fatty fish and omega-3s, exercising, refraining from smoking and heavy alcohol consumption, reducing stress, and treating existing conditions such as high blood pressure or cholesterol
You can also consider asking your doctor about blood tests that check your cardiovascular health, including inflammation, lipid deposits, endothelial dysfunction, clotting factors, and more.