Many young people assume that they don’t need to worry about heart health. But while advanced age has long been a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, young people can also be at risk for heart disease.

More people are experiencing cardiac events under the age of 40, due in part to risk factors for heart disease occurring at younger ages.

Anyone can experience cardiovascular disease, a group of conditions that includes heart attack and stroke. The possibility is higher for people who have certain risk factors.

Although the chances that you’ll have one of these risk factors get higher as you age, young adults are increasingly at risk for serious heart incidents.

A 2020 report published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) found that increased risk for heart disease can start in early adulthood.

Compared to adolescents ages 12 to 19, a smaller percentage of adults ages 20 to 39 meet the ideal metrics for the following factors connected to heart disease risk:

  • body mass index (BMI)
  • total cholesterol
  • fasting blood glucose
  • blood pressure
  • substance use

Young adults fare better for the other three factors, specifically diet, physical activity, and smoking. But while the proportion of both adolescents and young adults meeting ideal cholesterol and blood pressure guidelines has gone up over the past decade, the trends for BMI and fasting glucose have gone in the opposite direction.

The report also notes the concerning trends of higher rates of type 2 diabetes among young adults, as well as the use of e-cigarette products.

Recent studies have shown serious cardiac events are affecting young people at rising rates. A 2019 study found an increase in hospitalizations among women ages 35 to 54 for acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) between 1995 and 2014.

A 2015 analysis found that while rates of coronary heart disease mortality declined between 1979 and 2011 for older adults, those rates remained stable for young people during the same time period.

Despite these statistics, you can take steps to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s never too early in life to start making lifestyle changes to support your heart health.

Know your family history

Your heart disease risk goes up if you have a family history of the disease. If one or both of your parents have cardiovascular risk factors, you may carry that risk as well.

Lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure makes your arteries less flexible over time. This reduces the amount of blood and oxygen flowing to the heart, which can eventually lead to heart disease.

You can make lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure or talk with your doctor about a blood pressure-lowering medication.

Increase physical activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that a lack of physical activity is an independent risk factor for heart disease. It can also make it more likely that you’ll develop other risk factors, like obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high blood cholesterol.

Try to move more through daily physical activity, including walking and sports.

Maintain a moderate weight

Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A 2021 statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) noted that abdominal obesity, or “belly fat” is a particularly important indicator of heart risk, even in those who have a BMI in the normal range.

Take steps to manage weight through exercise and balanced eating patterns.

Manage your diabetes

By keeping diabetes or prediabetes under control, you can prevent damage to your heart’s blood vessels and nerves caused by high blood sugar.

Diabetes management can also help you to prevent other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.

Stop smoking

While fewer young people are smoking regular cigarettes, more are using e-cigarettes, according to the 2020 JAHA report. These e-cigarettes may also come with heart risks and can lead to the use of traditional cigarettes and tobacco products.

If you smoke, you can create a cessation plan with your doctor to support your heart’s health.

Other lifestyle changes, like eating a balanced diet, avoiding alcohol, and reducing stress can all help you support your heart health.

Meet Real People with Heart Disease

Check out Amy, Johnny, and Alyssa’s stories at Heart Healthy Stories That Keep Us Inspired from The Heart Foundation.

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You can speak with your doctor about heart health during a routine checkup, which many doctors recommend once a year. During these visits, you can ask every question you might have — even if you think it might be silly.

Your primary care physician can help you with many aspects of your heart health, including:

  • testing blood glucose and blood cholesterol
  • monitoring blood pressure
  • managing weight
  • eating a healthy diet
  • managing diabetes
  • quitting smoking

If your doctor thinks you are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or have a heart problem, they may refer you to a cardiologist.

Symptoms that might need the attention of a cardiologist include:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • heart murmur
  • chest pain
  • arrhythmia (irregular heart rate)
  • fainting

If you have a history of a heart event, like heart attack, your doctor may also suggest you see a cardiologist to improve your heart health.

You can ask your primary care doctor anything on your mind about heart health. Here are some common questions:

  • Am I at high risk for cardiovascular disease?
  • How can I reduce my heart disease risk?
  • What’s my ideal blood pressure?
  • How can I lower my blood pressure?
  • How can I manage my diabetes or prediabetes?
  • Are there foods I should avoid?
  • What kinds of physical activity do you recommend?
  • Can you help me quit smoking?
  • My parent (or sibling) has heart disease. What does that mean for my heart health risk?

Family doctors are often specially trained in the prevention of chronic illnesses like heart disease. So if you want to start on the track to better heart health as a young adult, an appointment with your primary care provider is a good place to start.

Young adults are at risk for cardiovascular disease based on factors such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Recent studies show that these risk factors are increasing for young people.

You can take control of your heart health by adopting a healthy lifestyle and working with your doctor to manage chronic conditions like diabetes.