Prevention of heart diseases and conditions

Learn about the risk factors for heart diseases and blood circulation conditions. Find out what you can do to reduce your risk.

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What are the risk factors of heart diseases and conditions?

Some heart diseases and blood circulation conditions are passed down from parent to child. Others are the result of lifestyle choices.

Risk factors include:

  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • a lack of exercise
  • high blood pressure
  • poor diet, which means you’re:
    • not eating enough vegetables and fruits
    • consuming too much saturated fats and/or trans fats and salt, common in processed foods
  • sleep apnea (trouble breathing during sleep)
  • a family history of heart diseases and conditions
  • obesity (being at an unhealthy weight as determined by your health care provider)

The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of having a heart disease or condition.

Who is most at risk?

You are more likely to be hospitalized or to die from heart diseases and conditions if you are a:

  • man who is 45 years of age or older
  • woman who is 55 years of age or older

There is also a higher risk of heart disease for women who:

  • take birth control pills
  • this increases the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots, but the risk is even greater if you also:
    • smoke and are over 35 years old
    • already have high blood pressure
    • already have a blood clotting problem
  • have gone through menopause

People with lower incomes are more likely to develop heart diseases. This is because they are more susceptible to risk factors associated with social disadvantage, such as:

  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure

Some ethnic groups tend to have very high rates of heart disease. This is due to family history or cultural reasons, including diet and physical inactivity. These groups include Aboriginal Canadians and Canadians whose origins are:

  • African
  • Chinese
  • Hispanic
  • South Asian

How do you reduce your risk?

You can reduce your risk for heart diseases and conditions by changing your lifestyle choices. This includes:

  • limiting alcohol
  • reducing stress
  • being physically active
  • eating nutritious foods
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting (or not starting) smoking

If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, these changes can reduce the risk of having another.

Also follow your health care provider's plans for managing your heart disease or condition.

Limiting alcohol

Limit drinking to:

  • 2 drinks a day maximum for women
  • 3 drinks a day maximum for men

A single drink equals:

  • 341 mL (12 oz.) of beer, cider or a cooler (5% alcohol content)
  • 142 mL (5 oz.) of wine (12% alcohol content) 
  • 43 mL (1.5 oz.) of distilled alcohol (40% alcohol content)

Reducing stress

Figure out when you feel stressed and find ways to avoid these situations. Do something enjoyable, such as:

  • reading a book
  • seeing a movie
  • visiting a friend

You can also try to:

  • do only 1 thing at a time
  • learn to say no to demands on your time
  • do regular breathing exercises or something that relaxes you
  • get active by taking a walk or riding your bike to help reduce tension

Being physically active

While being physically active can help reduce your risk for heart diseases and conditions, it depends on your current health. Ask your health care provider to advise you first on high intensity exercises. They will review your diet and lifestyle if you are:

  • older, such as:
    • men 45 years of age or older
    • women 55 years of age or older
  • overweight
  • physically unfit
  • have a family history of heart disease

If your health status is poor, the physical demands of heavy exercise can be fatal.

This risk increases when combined with cold temperatures. For instance, shovelling snow can be dangerous.

Eating nutritious foods

Develop healthy eating patterns by choosing a variety of:

  • vegetables and fruit
  • grain products
  • milk and alternatives
  • meat and alternatives

You can further reduce your risk for heart diseases and conditions by:

  • reading food labels to choose healthier products
  • limiting foods and drinks high in calories, fat, sugar and salt
  • eating the amount of food recommended for your age, sex and activity level
  • avoiding saturated and trans fats found in snack foods, fried foods and baked goods
  • eating the right type and amount of fats to increase your good cholesterol and decrease your bad cholesterol

Maintaining a healthy weight

Ask your health care provider to determine your healthy weight and create a plan to achieve and maintain it. Even losing a little extra weight can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Manage your diet carefully if you have diabetes and take your medications as indicated by your health care provider.

Quitting (or not starting) smoking

The risk of stroke for smokers of tobacco products is twice as high as that of non-smokers. Users of smokeless tobacco products like gum, as well as those exposed to second-hand smoke are also at increased risk.

You can avoid these risks by not using nicotine products, including:

  • gum
  • snuff
  • cigars
  • cigarettes
  • pipe tobacco
  • chewing tobacco

You should also avoid second-hand smoke.

How can you be tested?

Ask your health care provider to regularly check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Diabetes increases your risk for getting heart disease, so you may also need to be screened for it. This is especially important if:

  • a family member has diabetes
  • you had diabetes while pregnant 

What types of prevention programs are available? 

You can help prevent heart diseases and conditions by:

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