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Living in the U.S. worsens heart health for immigrants, research suggests

The U.S. has the second-highest rate of heart disease among high-income countries. This can spell trouble for immigrants who decide to call the U.S. their home.

According to the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), immigrants who adopt the U.S. lifestyle tend to have poorer heart health. The longer they live in the U.S., the worse off they are. 

The study measured heart health according to how well people followed 7 risk factors for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), improving these lifestyle factors can help optimize heart health and lower your risk of heart disease. If you let these factors slip, your heart disease risk goes up.

The 7 risk factors include:

  1. Smoking
  2. Body mass index (BMI)
  3. Physical activity
  4. Diet
  5. Cholesterol
  6. Blood pressure
  7. Blood sugar

The study suggests that as immigrants spend more time in the U.S., they begin adopting unhealthy habits. For example, many immigrants start eating fewer fruits and vegetables. Study authors suggest that immigrants also get less physical activity over time — eventually, their risk factors for heart disease increase. 

“The findings of this study underscore the importance of promoting [cardiovascular health] and wellness in the U.S. immigrant population,” the authors wrote. Particularly as 1 in 5 people living in the U.S. will be foreign-born by 2060, they add.

How to keep your heart healthy

For ideal heart health, the AHA recommends following these guidelines as closely as possible:

  • Not smoking
  • Keeping your BMI under 25 kg/m2
  • Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week
  • Eating a healthy diet consistent with dietary guidelines
  • Keeping your total cholesterol at less than 200 mg/dL without medications
  • Keeping your blood pressure under 120/80 mm Hg without medications
  • Keeping your fasting blood sugar under 100 mg/dL without medications

For more information about optimizing heart health, check out the many resources offered by the AHA.

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