Most risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are linked, which means that if you have one risk factor you will probably have others as well.
For example, people who are heavy drinkers usually have poor diets and are more likely to smoke. Also, obese people are more likely to have diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Addressing one risk factor, such as giving up smoking, will bring important health benefits, but to significantly reduce your risk of developing CVD, you need to look at your lifestyle as a whole.
In particular, you need to consider:
- your diet
- your weight
- the amount of alcohol you drink
- the amount of exercise and physical activity you do
- whether you need to stop smoking
Each of these is discussed below.
If you drink alcohol, you should not exceed the recommended daily limits of 3-4 units for men, and 2-3 units for women.
A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.
You should see your GP if you are finding it difficult to moderate your drinking. Counselling services and medication can help you reduce your alcohol intake.
Read more about alcohol units and treating an alcohol addiction.
For a healthy heart, a low fat, high fibre diet that includes whole grains and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day) is recommended.
Your diet should include no more than 6g (0.2oz or one teaspoon) of salt a day. Too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Limit the amount of salty foods you eat, such as ready-made meals and canned or tinned food.
Do not eat foods high in saturated fat because this will increase your cholesterol level. These foods include:
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- butter and ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
- hard cheese
- cakes and biscuits
- foods that contain coconut or palm oil
Eating some foods high in unsaturated fat can help decrease your cholesterol level. These foods include:
- oily fish
- nuts and seeds
- sunflower oil
- olive oil
Read more about healthy eating.
Exercise and weight management
If you are overweight or obese, you can lose weight using a combination of regular exercise and a calorie-controlled diet.
The recommendation for adults is 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise every day for at least five days a week.
Read more about the physical activity guidelines for adults.
Cycling or brisk walking are examples of moderate intensity exercise. Other activities you could incorporate into your exercise programme include:
If you find it difficult to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, start at a level you feel comfortable with.
For example, do 5-10 minutes of light exercise a day and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness level improves.
Read more about the benefits of exercise and losing weight.
If you smoke, it is strongly recommended you give up as soon as possible.
The NHS Smokefree website provides information, support and advice. Your GP will also be able to recommend and prescribe medication to help you quit.
Read more about stopping smoking.
If you have a particularly high risk of developing CVD, your GP may prescribe medication to help reduce your risk. Medication used to prevent CVD includes:
- blood pressure tablets, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – used to treat high blood pressure
- statins – used to lower blood cholesterol levels
- low-dose aspirin – used to prevent blood clots