By James M. Rippe

For many years, risk factors that directly and significantly affected heart health were called major risk factors. Today, with the constant outpouring of new research findings about potential risks and biomarkers, such established risk factors are more typically called traditional risk factors.

Other established factors that do not, according to the current research data, demonstrate as direct an impact may be called contributing risk factors. In addition to these established risk factors, extensive ongoing research regularly identifies and refines understanding of factors or markers related to heart health that are usually called emerging, nontraditional, or novel risk factors or biomarkers. These last also include exploration of promising genetic links to heart disease.

Sounds fairly complex, right? The stream of new research can be confusing. However, you should remember that extensive evidence supports the importance of the major traditional risk factors. Newer research typically refines and expands our understanding of the mechanisms and markers behind how these risk factors work.

Most usefully, you can divide the primary risk factors into those that you can change and those you can’t (though you should be aware of how the latter interact with risks you can modify).

Important risk factors you can change for the better though lifestyle practices include smoking, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, physical activity, obesity, and diabetes. Those you can’t modify include advancing age, your gender, and a family history of premature heart disease.