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.

Understanding Risk Factors for Heart Disease

How well do you know the risk factors for heart disease?

Cardiovascular diseases affect the circulatory system including the heart and blood vessels and are Canada’s leading cause of death in adults. The good news is that both heart disease and stroke are considered preventable, and many common risk factors are within your control. Showing your heart some love can significantly reduce your risk—and help you stay healthier in the long run! (Here are 30 Ways to Boost Your Heart Health!)

Nine out of 10 Canadians have at least one common risk factor for heart disease. Read on to find out which ones you have, and what you can do to lower your risk:

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

• Gender: Men are at higher risk of heart disease than women are. The risk for women rises after menopause. (Here are 5 Facts About Heart Disease All Women Should Know!)

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. (Would you recognize the 7 Silent Signs of a Heart Attack?)

• 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. Achieving a healthy weight, exercising more or taking medication can help lower your cholesterol. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

• 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. (Talk to your physician before starting an exercise program.) (It turns out These 2 Exercises Can Cut Your Risk of Heart Disease in Half!)

• 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 are tips on How to Decode Nutrition Facts Labels on Food!)

• Smoking: Here’s a great reason to butt out: according to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, 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 or consult our roundup of the 23 Best Ways to Quit Smoking.

• Excessive alcohol intake: Drinking too much can raise your blood pressure, which 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!

Check out more ways to enjoy Heart Health for Life!

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