10 Risk Factors for Heart Disease (and How to Control Them)

When it comes to preventing heart disease, knowledge is power. Here are 10 factors that contribute to your risk for developing heart disease, along with invaluable tips on how to even your odds.

Cardiovascular diseases affect the circulatory system including the heart and blood vessels. According to Heart and Stroke, nine in 10 Canadians have at least one of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The good news is that both heart disease and stroke are considered preventable, and many of the contributing factors are within your control. Showing your heart some love can significantly reduce your risk—and help you stay healthier in the long run.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease


Men over 45 and women over 55 are at higher risk of heart disease.


Men are at higher risk of heart disease than women, although the risk for women rises after menopause.

Family history

If any immediate family members (parents, siblings) have had high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a heart attack, your risk of heart disease is higher. (Learn to spot the heart attack symptoms that are frequently misdiagnosed.)

High blood pressure

One in four Canadians has high blood pressure (hypertension), which raises the risk of both heart disease and stroke. A nutritious diet, healthy body weight and regular exercise can help lower your blood pressure. Medication can also help—talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

High cholesterol

“Bad” LDL cholesterol causes hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. As with high blood pressure, achieving a healthy weight, exercising more or taking medication can help lower your cholesterol.

Risk factors for heart disease - four seniors being active walkingPhoto: SeventyFour / Shutterstock.com

Being overweight

Excessive body weight raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems. Knowing your Body Mass Index (BMI) can help you determine if you are at a healthy weight.

Lack of exercise

Ready to get moving? Regular physical activity can help prevent heart disease, help you lose weight, decrease stress and more. Mix it up! Join a gym, take dance lessons, try a team sport or start a lunchtime walking club with your co-workers. Be sure to speak with your physician before starting an exercise program.

Unhealthy diet

Eating more fruits and vegetables, and cutting back on sodium, saturated fats and trans fats, are great heart-healthy steps. To learn more about good nutrition and portion sizes, consult Canada’s Food Guide. Try planning each week’s meals in advance so that you’ll have nutritious options ready when things get hectic—plus you’ll spend less on packaged, processed and fast foods.


Here’s a great reason to butt out: according to Heart & Stroke, your risk of heart disease and stroke starts to decrease as soon as you quit. Within a year, your chances of dying from smoking-related heart disease is reduced by half. For free resources to help you quit, visit Smokers’ Helpline.

Excessive alcohol intake

Drinking too much can raise your blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Men should have no more than three drinks per day most days (maximum 15 per week), and women should not have more than two drinks per day most days (maximum 10 per week). For more on safer alcohol consumption, see Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

It takes time to change habits, so start small and keep building positive, cardio-friendly habits into your daily routine. Over time, you’ll notice the benefits—and your heart will thank you.

Now that you know the risk factors for heart disease, find out how you can actually reverse heart disease.