While family history and genetics can cause certain types of heart disease, there are some major risk factors for heart disease in our day-to-day lives that are both preventable and controllable. Managing these factors can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by over 80%.
1. High Blood Pressure
The normal level of blood pressure is 120/80. If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, you are at risk of hypertension and should visit your GP as soon as possible.
Blood pressure is largely determined by diet and lifestyle factors such as:
- Salt intake
- Chronic alcohol consumption
- Potassium, calcium or magnesium deficiency
- Excessive stress
- Obesity - specifically, carrying too much weight around your waist can increase your risk
- Physical inactivity
Your risk of hypertension increases with age and may also be influenced by:
- Genetics and family history
- Medical conditions such as thyroid disorders or sleep apnoea
Regular exercise, a healthy diet and stress management are the foundations of a healthy lifestyle that will allow you to maintain a healthy weight and manage your risk of high blood pressure.
2. Alcohol consumption
If you drink, do not exceed the maximum recommended limits.
- For men: 17 standard drinks, spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days
- For women: 11 standard drinks, spread out over the course of a week, with at least two to three alcohol-free days.
Avoid binge drinking, as this increases the risk of a heart attack. Binge drinking is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as 6 or more standard drinks in one session, which is the equivalent of 3 or more pints of beer or 6 or more pub measures of spirits.
3. High Cholesterol
High cholesterol contributes to the build-up of plaque that can clog arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. Saturated and trans-fats can increase the body’s production of bad cholesterol.
Saturated fat is found in products like:
- Butter and dairy
- Tropical oils
- Cocoa butter
Trans fat is common in:
- Fried foods
- Baked goods like pastries, pizza dough, cookies and crackers
Family history can also play a role, meaning you may be at risk regardless of your weight, fitness, diet or lifestyle. Seeing your GP or getting your cholesterol tested is the only way to manage your cholesterol.
Aim for a diet and lifestyle that includes:
- Fruit & vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Limiting red meat
- Limiting sugary foods and drinks
- Regular physical exercise - 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times a week
Any amount of cigarette smoking raises your health risks. Smoking can cause fat build-up in the arteries, increasing blood pressure and the tendency for blood to clot.
It impacts your ability to live a healthy lifestyle by diminishing your capacity to exercise, which in turn affects your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.
If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (furring of the arteries). It also causes most cases of coronary thrombosis in people under the age of 50.
5. Lack of physical activity
Studies show that 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity or 1 hour of vigorous physical activity each week can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30%. It will:
- make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient
- lower your cholesterol level
- keep your blood pressure at a healthy level
People who do not exercise are twice as likely to have a heart attack than those who exercise regularly. Any aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming and dancing, makes your heart work harder and keeps it healthy.
A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI of over 30 is considered obese.
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to heart health. Being overweight or obese can increase your blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of developing diabetes, all of which increase your risk of heart disease.
A healthy weight can help your heart more efficiently circulate blood. Losing weight around your waistline specifically can also improve your blood pressure.
If you have diabetes, it’s even more important that you practice a healthy lifestyle to minimize your other risks of heart disease. You have a greater risk of developing CHD if you are diabetic.
- At least 68% of people over the age of 65 with diabetes die from heart disease
- Adults with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have heart disease or stroke
Diabetes is treatable, yet people with diabetes often also have high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol and can struggle with obesity and lack of physical activity.
If you have diabetes, being physically active and controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level.
If you are diabetic, your target blood pressure level should be below 130/80mmHg.