Research shows that even making small lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and other serious cardiovascular conditions.
Risk factors you can change:
- High blood pressure – Blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure or force inside the arteries with each heartbeat. High blood pressure increases the workload on your heart and kidneys, increasing your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. High blood pressure is also the biggest risk factor for stroke.
- High cholesterol – Excessive lipids (fatty substances including cholesterol and triglycerides), especially in the form of LDL cholesterol, cause the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries. This reduces or blocks blood and oxygen flow to your heart.
- Smoking – Smoking is the most preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Cigarette, pipe and cigar smokers have more than twice the risk of a heart attack than nonsmokers. Smoking is also the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Even one to two cigarettes a day greatly increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. Nonsmokers who are exposed to constant smoke also have an increased risk.
- Diabetes and high glucose levels – Diabetes occurs when the body can’t produce insulin or use the insulin it has. This results in elevated blood sugar levels. People with diabetes (especially women) have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease because diabetes increases other risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Physical inactivity – The heart is like any other muscle – it needs a workout to stay strong and healthy. Exercising helps improve how well the heart pumps blood through your body. By exercising, you can lower blood pressure, lower high cholesterol, reduce stress, achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, help yourself quit smoking, and improve your blood sugar levels.
- Excess weight – Research has shown that being overweight contributes to the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Excess weight also raises blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, lowers HDL cholesterol, and increases the risk of diabetes.
- Stress – There is a direct relationship between stress and heart disease. If left unmanaged, chronic stress can lead to excessive eating, high blood pressure, chest pain and/or irregular heart rhythm.
Risk factors you can't change:
- Age – Cardiovascular disease is more likely to occur as you get older. About 85% of people who die of coronary artery disease are age 65 or older.
- Sex – Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women.
- Family History – Risk increases if your parents, siblings or children have the disease, especially if male relatives were under 55 when diagnosed, or female relatives were under 65.
- Menopause – A woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases after menopause.
- Race – African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian-Americans are at higher risk. This is partly due to higher rates of hypertension, obesity and diabetes in those populations.