Aykut Erdogdu/ShutterstockJust because your doctor hasn’t told you you’ve got signs of cardiovascular problems doesn’t mean you’re safe. The symptoms can be easy to miss, like these 4 silent signs of clogged arteries. Thankfully, new research in The Journal of American College of Cardiology shows it might be easier than ever to see if heart issues are in your future.
A total of 3,983 Banco Santander employees between 40 and 54 years who had no history of cardiovascular problems took various health tests. Doctors looked at blood and urine samples, lifestyle questions, and physical activity ability. They also tested electrical activity of participants’ hearts and levels of plaque in their heart arteries. Plaque is an early sign of cardiovascular problems because it keeps blood from getting through to the rest of your body, but you won’t get a screening in your regular checkup. (But when you get home, eat these 14 foods and spices that improve circulation.)
When researchers took a look at the data, the results were clear. Just five factors could predict plaque levels: blood pressure, physical activity level, body-mass index, fruit and vegetables in diet, and whether the person smokes. Those five factors made up a test called the Fuster-BEWAT score, and a good score was associated with less total heart plaque and fewer artery areas affected—meaning a lower risk of cardiovascular problems. (Don’t miss these other 11 silent signs your heart is in trouble.)
The fact that a nutritious diet, healthy weight, regular exercise, good blood pressure, and no tobacco can help your heart isn’t new, but it could mean a more streamlined doctor visit. (Learn what age you should start heart screenings.) The American Heart Association recommends not just testing those, but also cholesterol and blood sugar levels, both of which require a blood test. The new study looked at those, too, but found they didn’t make predictions any more accurate. “The Fuster-BEWAT score [could be] a more practical and cost-effective option for promoting cardiovascular health, especially in regions with limited economic resources,” says study co-author Hector Bueno, MD, PhD, FESC, FAHA, in a release.
Just because you might be able to predict cardiovascular risk without looking at cholesterol and blood sugar doesn’t mean you should ignore them entirely. “Bad” LDL cholesterol can still cause more plaque to build up in your arteries, and a host of health problems linked to blood sugar issues from diabetes (like high blood pressure and obesity) can raise your risk for heart problems. Leaving those tests out is a cheaper way to measure risk, not an indicator that they aren’t causing issues. Find out how to avoid both with these 7 drug-free ways to lower cholesterol and 7 surprising habits that can lead to diabetes.
Whether you have a poor Fuster-BEWAT score or not, a healthy lifestyle always pays off. Try to limit red meat and eat more fruits and veggies, work out regularly, and quit smoking. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results at your next annual checkup.
For more ideas, check out these other 45 things cardiologists do to protect their own hearts.