How Your Height Affects Your Risk of Heart Disease

The shorter you are, the higher your risk

How Your Height Affects Your Risk of Heart Disease

The shorter you are, the more likely you are to have heart disease or a heart attack.

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It may sound like an old wives’ tale, but it’s true. Doctors have known it for 50 years, although they hadn’t been able to explain the link — until now.

A recent study says it’s all because of your genes. There are about 180 of them that determine your height. Some of the genes that make you short also make you more likely to have more artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

In the study of nearly 200,000 people in the U.K., researchers determined that for every 2.5 inches below average height, risk of heart disease increased about 14 percent. The connection was more pronounced in men than women, however. More research is needed to understand the gender difference.

You can beat your genes

Even if you’re someone of small stature, heart disease certainly isn’t a given. You can beat your genes, says Marc Gillinov, MD, heart surgeon at Cleveland Clinic.

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“You can’t choose your parents, but you can choose what you do to live healthy,” he says. “Lifestyle factors — eating well, staying in shape, managing stress — help control about 90 percent of your heart health.”

The risk of getting heart disease due to your height is much less than the risk due to smoking or having high cholesterol, he notes.

What’s more important

Regardless of your height, the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to:

  • Avoid tobacco
  • Control cholesterol
  • Lower high blood pressure through a low-salt diet, exercise, weight management and, if needed, medication
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Do moderate exercise at least 30 minutes a day, on most days
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and low in sodium, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and refined sugar

Tall people aren’t immune

“Tall people don’t get a pass. I operate on plenty of them, too,” says Dr. Gillinov. “Everyone needs to watch what they eat and stay physically active. But for short people, it’s even more important.”

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Learn more

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Moderate Activity May Be All Your Heart Needs