A quarter of all men suffer a heart attack—the average age is 65—and for 80,000 of them each year, the first symptom is also the last: death. Even if you believe your heart could be Superman, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Take this quiz and tally up your points to figure out if your ticker is really a time bomb, and when you might suffer your first heart attack.
NOTE: This is not a diagnostic tool, and your score is not a diagnosis. This is a quiz to provide you with a general appraisal of your risk level. If your test score raises any immediate concerns or questions, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the test and your results.
How old are you?
More than 83 percent of people who die of heart disease are 65 or older, but your risk of developing atherosclerosis (and succumbing to a fatal heart attack) begins to increase after age 40.
a. 35 or under (0)
b. 36 to 50 (1)
c. 51 to 60 (2)
d. 61 or older (3)
Do heart attacks run in your family?
Genetics is the single greatest predictor of whether you’re headed for cardiac arrest. The closer the relative and the younger they were when they had a heart attack, the more concerned you should be.
a. Yes* (5)
b. No (0)
*Double your score if your father died of a heart attack before age 50. Triple it if your grandfather succumbed to the same fate.
Do you smoke or have extensive exposure to secondhand smoke?
The chemicals in smoke act like sandpaper in your arteries, giving plaque something to hold on to.
a. Yes (5)
b. No (0)
What is your blood pressure?
High blood pressure has the same effect as smoking, damaging the walls of arteries and facilitating arteriosclerosis. Avoid all of that by adhering to these 10 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure.
a. Greater than 140/90 (5)
b. Between 121/81 and 139/89 (2)
c. Less than 120/80 (0)
What are your cholesterol levels?
The farther apart your HDL and LDL levels are, the greater your risk for having a heart attack. You should test your lipid profile once every five years, starting at age 30, and then as often as your doctor recommends.
a. HDL less than 40 mg/dL (5)
b. LDL more than 130 mg/dL (5)
c. Total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL (0)
What are your triglyceride levels?
Triglycerides are the chemical form of fat in your blood. When their levels are high, they increase the risk of forming plaques in the walls of your arteries. (Your pentannual lipid profile will include your triglyceride levels.)
a. Greater than 150 mg/dL (5)
b. Less than 150 mg/dL (0)
c. Don’t know (2)
What is your fasting blood-glucose level?
The more sugar you have in your blood, the stickier it gets. This, in turn, increases blood pressure and facilitates the buildup of plaque. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that people with high blood-sugar levels (i.e., prediabetics and diabetics) have twice the risk of heart disease as nondiabetics. You should be tested once a year starting at age 35.
a. Greater than 125 (5)
b. Between 100 and 124 (2)
c. Less than 99 (0)
d. Don’t know (2)
What is your waist circumference?
Visceral fat—which is located behind your abs, producing a hard potbelly—secretes hormones that raise blood pressure and cause inflammation.
a. Greater than 36* (2)
b. Less than 36 (0)
*Your risk of a heart attack rises 300 percent if you have both a potbelly and any two of the following maladies: high triglycerides, low HDL, high blood sugar, or high blood pressure. (Add 5 points if you do.)
Can you feel your pulse in your foot?
If you place your fingers on the top of your foot halfway between your ankle and the base of your big toe, you should feel a strong pulse. The absence of one indicates arteriosclerosis, which often shows up first in the arteries of the legs.
a. Yes (0)
b. No (2)
Are your erections as hard as they were in your twenties?
Arteriosclerosis can also strike the small vessels of the penis first, impeding blood flow and causing erectile dysfunction.
a. Yes* (0)
b. No (2)
*Experiencing three or more orgasms a week cuts your risk of having a heart attack in half, according to researchers at the University of Bristol, in England. Subtract 1 point if this is you. (And if you’re looking to try this method of heart attack prevention, try one of these 6 game-changing upgrades to your favorite positions.)
Rate the stress in your life.
Stress triggers the release of fight-or-flight hormones, which ratchet up blood pressure and facilitate clotting, which, in turn, restricts blood flow. Lower your stress levels by working out, or try one of these 10 best non-exercise stress busters.
a. Very high (2)
b. Moderate (1)
c. Little to none (0)
How often do you tipple?
Enjoying two drinks a day cuts your risk of having a heart attack by 30 percent, according to Harvard researchers. Any more than that, however, and your risk of having a heart attack increases with each daily drink. Try one or two of these 20 cocktails every guy should know how to make, then call it a night.
a. Three or more drinks every day (2)
b. Binge on weekends (2)
c. One or two drinks a day (-1)
d. Never (0)
Do you snore?
Apnea episodes (when the sleeper briefly stops breathing) starve the heart of oxygen and can cause a cardiac arrhythmia, which can lead to a fatal heart attack.
a. Yes—every night with a consistent, sawing-wood sound (0)
b. Yes—grunts and snorts, followed by silence (2)
c. No (0)
Are you hot-tempered?
More than 30,000 heart attacks are triggered each year by momentary anger, according to a study at Harvard University. Men who frequently express anger are also twice as likely to have a stroke, according to a recent study in the journal Stroke. If you find yourself blowing up at coworkers and need a new anger management technique, try this single best way to chill out when you want to totally lose it.
a. Yes (2)
b. No (0)
How often do you exercise?
Just two hours of aerobic exercise a week (split into half-hour sessions) can cut your heart-attack risk in half, according to Canadian researchers. Strength training helps as well: A recent study at Michigan Technological University showed that men who completed three total-body-weight workouts a week lowered their diastolic blood pressure by eight points, which is enough to reduce their heart-attack risk by 15 percent. For new ways to feel the burn, try these All-Time Greatest One-Move, Total-Body Workouts.
a. Four or more times a week for 30 minutes each time (-2)
b. Two or three times a week (-1)
c. No routine exercise (2)
How closely does your diet resemble the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines?
Eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can cut your risk of having a heart attack by 20 percent, according to the findings from a study at Harvard University. Focus on leafy green vegetables and these 10 best foods for your heart. Just one serving a day of your leafy greens can reduce your heart attack risk by 11 percent. Does your diet include healthy portions of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and a small bit of dairy?
a. Identical (-2)
b. Close (0)
c. Not at all (2)
So, how’s your heart?
Tally your points and use this key to gauge how at-risk you are for a heart attack and determine if you need testing.
0 to 10: Low Risk
Falling into this category isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card—studies suggest that 50 percent of all men will develop a cardiovascular condition at some point in their lives—but odds are that your pump and pipes will not fail you in the next 30 years, especially if you maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle.
11 to 25: Moderate Risk
Although your immediate risk for having a heart attack is low, your 20-year outlook isn’t as promising. Get a full lipid profile, which measures HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, every year to keep tabs on your cardiovascular health, and start adjusting your lifestyle to support your heart.
26 to 39: High-Alert Zone
Your genetic predisposition, lifestyle, physical condition, or family history suggests that you could have a heart attack in the next 15 years. Talk to your doctor immediately about getting advanced screening tests, and start adjusting your lifestyle to support your heart.
40 or more: Danger Zone
You’re living on borrowed time. Medical intervention and radical lifestyle changes are required to prevent a heart attack in the next five years. See your doctor to schedule advanced tests and for guidance.
If your doctor suspects that you’re at high risk for heart disease, he may propose immediate statin therapy or some of the following tests to gauge the health of your arteries and pinpoint problem areas.
64-slice CT-scan: This ultrafast scanner can capture your heart between beats and render it in 3-D, providing a clearer picture of your coronary arteries than any other type of scan. It detects hard and soft plaques in arteries and gives you a calcium score to gauge your risk of having a heart attack in the future. An electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT) scan provides a similar reading, but it’s not as sensitive.
High-sensitivity CRP test: Fifty percent of heart attacks occur in people with normal levels of LDL cholesterol, so if you’re in a high-risk group—because of race, blood pressure, or family history, for example—you might benefit from this blood test. It looks for elevated levels of C-reactive protein, which is produced by your liver in response to inflammation and is as predictive of heart disease as high cholesterol.
Stress test: If your doctor suspects that you have a blocked artery, he’ll prescribe this test to determine if physical exertion (from exercising on a treadmill) can provoke the symptoms of heart disease (i.e., chest pain, a drop in blood pressure during exercise, or abnormal heartbeats or rhythms). This test is often combined with an echocardiogram or nuclear tests (which take images of the heart using sound waves and radioactive dye, respectively) to increase its sensitivity.
For more great health advice, see here.
Advisors: John A. Elefteriades, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Yale University and director of the Yale Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease; Prediman Krishan (P.K.) Shah, MD, director of cardiology and the atherosclerosis research center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles; Arthur Agatston, MD, a cardiologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (Dr. Agatston is also the best-selling author of The South Beach Diet book series and The South Beach Heart Program).
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