CVD is a generic term that covers a number of conditions including coronary heart disease (CHD), coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, arrhythmia and heart valve problems. Since 1990, cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been the leading cause of mortality globally and generates more than $3 billion annually in healthcare costs. According to the Centers for Disease for Control and Prevention (CDC), about 600,000 individuals will die each year from heart disease in the U.S alone, equating to roughly one in every four deaths annually. With such staggering numbers, it is not surprising that CVD education and healthy lifestyle choices are strongly encouraged for all populations. 

While some risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled (age, ethnic background or family history), you can take measures to drastically decrease your risk of CVD (and other related complications) and improve your overall health outcomes, by changing certain risk factors that are in your control. Below, the various risk factors are discussed in greater detail.

What can I do about it? 

According to the CDC, about half of all Americans (47%) have at least 1-3 risks for developing CVD. However, the risks can significantly decrease when managed as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. 

Top risks for CVD that you can control/manage/eliminate/reduce:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol (high LDL or low HDL cholesterol levels)
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Inactivity/sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight or obese

Top tips for lowering your risk for CVD

Control your blood pressure

It is important to get your blood pressure checked routinely and take any prescribed medications regularly for your blood pressure. As a minimum check your blood pressure during annual physical visits, and any other visit to a medical professional, this frequency may increase if you have high blood pressure already. Incorporate healthy lifestyle changes to prevent or control high blood pressure including eating a healthy, balanced diets such as DASH (low in saturated fat, cholesterol, red meat, alcohol and sodium) and get regular exercise (at least 150 minutes weekly).

Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control

High levels of cholesterol can block arteries and raise the risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Lowering this risk is achieved through a healthy diet and regular exercise, as well as taking any prescribed medication, if needed. Aim to lower your LDL levels and increase HDL levels. Lifestyle changes and medicines (if needed) can help lower cholesterol. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides may also raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially in women.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese will increase your risk for heart disease. Excess weight often leads to the following CVD risk factors: high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and/or type 2 diabetes. Thus, maintaining a healthy weight for your size and age will lower these risks.

Eat a healthy diet

Aim to limit saturated fats, foods high in sodium, and added sugars. Consume plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and keep well hydrated with water daily. The DASH diet (see above) is an example of an eating plan that aids in lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol, which is key to reducing the risk of CVD.

Get regular exercise

Exercise has countless physical, mental and emotional benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving your circulation. It can also help maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. All of which will lower your risk of CVD.

Limit alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Men should aim to have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should not have more than one.

Don’t smoke

Smoking cigarettes raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not plan to start. If you do smoke, try to quit ASAP. Speak with your health care provider for guidance to find the optimal way for you to quit.

Manage stress

CVD and stress are correlated to one another in many ways. It can raise your blood pressure and in extreme cases, be a “trigger” for a heart attack. Additionally, people often tend to cope with stress in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking, all of which are bad for the heart. Some ways to help manage your stress include exercise, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating. If coping with stress becomes too difficult, contact a mental health professional to help guide you through the situations and teach you helpful and healthy coping techniques and mechanisms to manage your stress levels.

Manage glucose levels

Living with poorly managed diabetes doubles the risk of diabetic related CVD. This is due to the fact that prolonged high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. Therefore, if you have diabetes, keeping your glucose levels in range and under control are imperative to long term heart health.

Prioritize sleep and rest

Lack of sleep is closely linked to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, all of which significantly raise the risk for CVD. Most adults need, on average, 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Develop and maintain healthy sleep and rest habits. If you struggle with frequent sleep problems, contact your healthcare provider. 

Next steps

If you have any of the CVD risk factors described above, or suspect that you may, please contact your healthcare provider for guidance and advice as to how to incorporate the necessary modifications described above. Implementing these lifestyle changes will positively benefit your overall health thus leading a healthier lifestyle and reduced risk of developing CVD.