Cardiovascular disease is sometimes a silent killer causing few symptoms until the first heart attack. That’s why it’s so important to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle to lower the risk and track markers of heart health, like blood pressure, blood glucose, blood lipids, and inflammatory markers. Fortunately, whether you develop a heart attack or stroke depends more on lifestyle than it does genetics. Experts believe that a healthy lifestyle could prevent up to 80% of cases of cardiovascular disease.
Here’s what you might not know: certain physical characteristics are linked with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Having these characteristics doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop heart disease or a stroke, but if you have them, it’s an extra incentive to make the lifestyle changes you need to lower your risk.
Large Waist Size
Grab a tape measure! It pays to monitor your waist size. Health experts now believe that waist size is a more important marker of future health risks than body weight or body mass index. Large waist circumference is a marker that you carry more visceral fat, a type of fat linked with inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
How do you know if your waist size places you at risk of cardiovascular disease? A waist size of greater than 35 inches in women or 40 inches in men is an indicator of higher cardiovascular risk. Another way to assess your risk is to compare your waist size to your height. Your waist circumference should be no more than half of your height. Therefore, if you’re 5 feet 8 inches, your waist size should measure no larger than 34 inches.
Most people spend too much time monitoring their weight and not enough measuring their waist. All you need is a tape measure and good technique. To measure, exhale, and wrap the tape measure around your waist at the level of your belly button. Check the value and record it. Keep tabs and show your health care provider your readings. Be alert to changes in waist circumference over time too.
A balding head is more than an aesthetic issue; it may be a sign of a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. A meta-analysis of multiple studies looking at almost 40,000 men found guys with hair loss around the crown had between a 44 to 84% greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The risk was highest for men who lost their hair before the age of 60. However, a receding hairline was not associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Although this study is correlational and doesn’t show causation, the increased risk may have to do with testosterone. Men who have higher levels of testosterone make more dihydrotestosterone and that causes hair follicles to shrink. Although unproven, scientists suspect there’s an association between higher levels of testosterone and cardiovascular disease. So, testosterone may be the commonality between the two.
The eyes may be the mirror to the soul, but they also say something about your health. If you notice a white or gray circle around your iris, the colored part of your eye, it could be a corneal arcus. An arcus is made up of cholesterol deposits that deposit on the clear covering called the cornea that covers the surface of the eyes. In adults younger than age 45, a corneal arcus suggests an inherited form of hypercholesterolemia, very elevated cholesterol that also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you see one when you look in the mirror, talk to your physician. Be sure to get regular eye exams and check your lipid levels regularly too.
An Earlobe Crease
When you look in the mirror, inspect your earlobes. Do you see a deep wrinkle or crease that runs diagonally across your earlobe? Some research links earlobe creases with a higher risk of coronary artery disease. The crease is usually most visible when you first wake up after lying in bed. Squeezing your ear lobe slightly may also make it more prominent if it’s there.
It’s not clear why ear creases are more common in people with poor heart health. The crease may represent narrowing or plaque build-up in the small vessels in the ear. In turn, this may be a marker for the build-up of plaque in the larger coronary arteries that carry blood and oxygen to the heart.
Looking Old for Your Age
Do people tell you that you look older than you are? Hopefully, they’re not that rude! But if they do, question the health of your heart. Research shows a link between looking older than a person’s age and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Why should such a link exist? It may be the outward signs of aging are manifestations of premature aging that also affect the heart muscle and its blood vessels.
The Bottom Line
Having any of these signs is no guarantee that you’ll develop cardiovascular disease, but they do suggest that you should monitor your heart health more closely if you have one of these signs and practice a heart-healthy lifestyle. If you have more than one of these signs, close monitoring is even more important. Talk to your physician about your risk factors and what you can do to lower your risk. It matters for the health of your heart and your health in general.
- Am J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 1; 103(1): 64-66.
- UK Independent. “The bald facts: hair loss could be the first sign you have heart disease”
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Testosterone and the heart’
- 2014 Mar 4;129(9):990-8. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.001696. Epub 2013 Dec 13.
- Nat Rev Cardiol. 2014 Feb;11(2):64. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2013.218. Epub 2014 Jan 7.
- Arch Med Sci. 2015 Dec 10; 11(6): 1145-1155.
- Am J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 1; 103(1): 64-66.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Waist Size Matters”
- Mayo Clinic. “Arcus senilis: A sign of high cholesterol?”
- gov. “Preventable Deaths from Heart Disease & Stroke”