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Can I reduce my risk of developing heart disease?

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., and 80% of heart disease is preventable!* So the answer is yes, you can reduce your risk for developing heart disease.

The first step in reducing your risk of heart disease is to understand your risk factors. There are two types of risk factors—those you can control, and those you can’t control:

Risk Factors You Can ControlRisk Factors You Can’t Control
SmokingFamily History of Heart Disease or Stroke
Manage Your DiabetesGender (men have higher rates of heart disease)
Physical Activity 
Manage Your High
Blood Pressure
Nutrition/Alcohol Intake 

Your age, gender and family medical history are things that you do not have any control over. Be sure to notify your doctor of any family members who have had heart disease, because he/she will consider that when assessing your risk for developing heart disease.


Risk Factors You Can Control

Maintaining a Healthy Weight: The current guidelines for healthy weight are determined using two screening tools: Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference. BMI is calculated using your height and weight (Click here for an online BMI calculator). A BMI higher than 25 is considered overweight, and higher than 30 is considered obese. Excess body weight is linked to heart disease because it leads to diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, all of which are major risk factors for heart disease. Women with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches have a higher risk for heart disease; for men the number is 40 inches.

Smoking: If you smoke, seek help to stop. There are many new helpful tools available, and the benefit to your health is almost immediate. Additionally, limit your exposure to secondhand smoke, which is also unhealthy.

Manage your Diabetes and High Blood Pressure: If you have either diabetes or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s directions precisely to manage these conditions. Take all medications as prescribed, and lose weight if instructed. Diabetes and high blood pressure are both damaging to the body’s circulatory system: high glucose levels in the blood damage blood vessels, which in turn can damage the heart, and high blood pressure damages the lining of the arteries by making them less elastic, which can limit the blood flow and allow plaque to form. Physical Activity: Current guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest that people engage in exercise that meets one of the criteria below:

DurationType of ActivityTimes Per Week
30 minutesModerate—raises your heart rate and break a sweat5 times/week
25 minutesVigorous-substantially higher heart rate and rapid breathing3 times/week

Physical activity helps you to control weight, cholesterol, and diabetes. It also strengthens the heart, slows bone loss, and reduces anxiety and depression, among many other benefits. Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen.

Healthy DietNutrition: National Dietary Guidelines recommend that fat intake is no more than 20%-35% of your total daily calorie consumption. The best fat sources are fish, nuts, and vegetable oils, and you should avoid saturated and trans fats as much as possible. When selecting meats, poultry, and dairy, choose those that are lean, low fat, or fat-free. Portion control is critical. The average person’s stomach is about the size of a clenched fist, so keep this in mind when loading your plate. If you picture your day’s food intake as a dinner plate, half should come from fruits and vegetables, 15% from whole grains, 15% from meat and protein, and no more than 20% from fats.

Preventive Screening: Preventive health screenings are an affordable, convenient, and effective way to understand your risk for developing heart disease. Early detection of risk for stroke and heart disease enables you to work with your doctor to develop an action plan. Preventive screenings provide powerful information, enabling you to have even more knowledge regarding your risk. And knowledge is power.

* American Heart Association,