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Understanding the risk factors that cause heart disease can be the first step towards a healthier heart.
Some risk factors, like your age, gender and family medical history, you can’t change, but some you can and a heart healthy lifestyle is often the key. By eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and not smoking you can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Natural risk factors
Age - the older you are, the greater the risk.
Gender - women tend to develop heart disease later than men, usually after the menopause.
Family history - if a close relative under the age of 55 suffered from heart disease there may be an increased risk in your family.
Clinical risk factors
High blood pressure – a high and uncontrolled blood pressure puts your heart and blood vessels under strain and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. The higher the blood pressure the greater the risk, so make sure you get your blood pressure checked.
Raised blood cholesterol – your liver makes the cholesterol your body needs. For some people, the liver makes too much of it, a condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia. For most of us, our cholesterol levels can increase because of the type of fat we eat, how healthy our diet is and whether we're inactive and overweight.
Your liver makes two types of cholesterol:
• LDL cholesterol, also known as ‘bad cholesterol’, delivers cholesterol to where it’s needed in the body. Too much of it can be deposited in arteries and cause the build up of fatty plaque, that narrows arteries.
• HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol 'mops' up the excess and takes it away from arteries and back to the liver.
Diabetes – if not carefully managed, diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease and it can also worsen the effects of other risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol or smoking. A healthy lifestyle can help control diabetes and minimise its impact on heart health.
High waist measurement – excess weight, especially if carried around your middle, can lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and insulin-resistance (which can lead to diabetes) and put a strain on the heart.
Lifestyle risk factors
Smoking – the chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the lining of the arteries, reduce your blood’s oxygen-carrying ability and increases the risk of heart disease. It’s an addictive habit, but with help you can successfully quit and start on the road to a healthier heart.
Eating an unhealthy diet – eating too much saturated fat and salt and not enough fruit and vegetables, fibre and omega-3 is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Being physically inactive – regular exercise is key for a Healthy Heart and arteries, healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body weight. Being active will help you feel great too, not just your heart.
Visit our heart smart section for top tips to help keep your heart healthy.