Health & Wellness Articles

What Causes Heart Disease?

Are You At Risk for Heart Disease?

225SHARES
Controllable Risk Factors
Factors that you can control are related to your lifestyle—the choices you make each day about what to eat and whether or not to exercise. These are areas of your life where you can take control to reduce your risk of heart disease and enhance your overall health.
  • Smoking. Most people think of lung cancer when they think of smoking, but did you know that smoking is the leading preventable cause of heart disease and heart attack? People who smoke are 2-4 times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers, according to the AHA. Smoking damages the walls of your arteries, constricts blood vessels, and lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking can stop (and potentially reverse) a lot of the existing damage to your body. The American Lung Association says that after one year of quitting, an ex-smoker's heart disease risk is half that of a smoker's, and after 15 years without lighting up, it's as low as a nonsmoker's. Don't smoke? Good! But stay away from tobacco smoke anyway. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
     
  • Your diet. A diet that's high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, added sugars, cholesterol can raise your cholesterol and blood pressure levels and increase your risk of heart disease. Some research shows that diets too high in animal-based foods (meat and high-fat dairy products) and too low in plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts can lead to heart disease, too. Learn more about the foods that help fight heart disease.
     
  • Your activity level. If you're inactive, you're almost twice as likely to develop heart disease as people who get moving on a regular basis, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Regular exercise naturally decreases the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in your blood while increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also lowers blood pressure and helps with blood sugar control, not to mention that exercise strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system so that it is more efficient. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to offer benefits. Get a heart-smart workout plan here.
     
  • Your weight. The more excess body fat you have, the greater your risk of heart disease and heart attack—even if you have no other risk factors. Being overweight increases your blood LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowers HDL (good) cholesterol, and exacerbates other heart disease risks like diabetes and high blood pressure. Plus, carrying excess weight simply puts additional strain on the heart, forcing it to work harder. Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is one way to determine if you are overweight; losing just 10% of your body weight (if you are overweight) can improve your heart health.
     
  • Stress. Experts aren't sure why people with chronic stress have higher rates of heart disease, but they believe that stress (and the hormones it releases) may damage the arteries over time and make blood clots more likely to form. Just one stressful episode can elevate the heart rate and blood pressure for a short period, and even lead to a heart attack. Some people find unhealthy ways to deal with stress, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking (all risk factors in their own right). Identifying your stressors and dealing with them in a healthy way can help protect your heart.
     
  • Your drinking habits. Drinking too much—and possibly too little—seems to increase one's risk of heart disease. People who drink moderately (defined as an average of one drink day for women and two drinks daily for men) have a lower risk of heart disease than nondrinkers. However, the AHA does not recommend that teetotalers start drinking (or that drinkers increase the amount they drink) in order to achieve these purported benefits. Drinking too much has far more risks than not drinking. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as contribute to obesity, irregular heartbeat, cardiomyopathy, alcoholism, heart failure, cancer, stroke and other diseases. To protect your heart, cut back on drinking; if you don't drink often—or at all—don't start. Continued ›
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • HEALMONY
    Thanks for the information. I didn't know a couple.

    http://healmony
    .com - 7/22/2014 11:16:30 AM
  • I find my own course of life issues to be related in the area of "Level and degree to which each body responds to different food types". As a young person I had very little sensitvity to food and I also was very very active. I stressed alot of my body processes as I have aged and this plus increased sensitivty to food and less and less effectivness of my own "engine" makes my approach to food and activity much different NOW. I am an old car that needs more care and attention to be performing at any level. Bottom line everything is relative and age plus wear and tear make the management of risks different. I like the suggestions but I temper my approach to my current ability to manage my numbers. - 3/13/2014 2:18:17 PM
  • ANGIE7773
    Exercise daily .... I walked 4500 steps 5 days a week I didn't loose much weight... but my body shape changed. And best of all my BP dropped to 120/70 which has been maintained thru to this year - 2/1/2014 1:37:21 AM
  • KWHILES
    My two cents worth!? These are the general, widely accepted risk factors and lifestyle chioces that are linked to heart disease and heart attack. There are always exceptions and "atypical" bodies when it comes to any physical problem! As a result, we need to do our best to pay attetnion to our bodies and be very persistent when dealing with the medical profession, as well as paying attetnion to our tendancies to ignore symptoms or put off seeking answers. I am 49 with personal and family HISTORY of high blood pressure, high cholestrol, and early onset heart disease. I first noticed personal SYMPTOMS (angina during exercise) in my early 40's which was swept under the rug by an ignorant cardiologist who gave me a stress test and pronounced me to be "fine" . In the past nine months I've had to push to get the correct testing and finally had an angiogram two weeks ago resulting in angioplasty and stent placement for an 80% blockage on a major artery in my heart. Having a diagnosis of Coraonary Heart Disease is not ideal for me but actually having a diagnosis and a REAL cardiologist after 7 years is a relief! I wish I'd been more persistant sooner!! - 3/14/2013 11:15:53 AM
  • P1NKR05E5
    Read Dr. William Davis's book "Wheat Belly"!!!! It changed my life. I'm sad that my dear husband has been misled by articles like this. He has had a heart attack in the past and now stents just recently. Obviously, he and the rest of America who follow the AHA recommendations are still getting sick. Maybe, something needs to change!! I follow a grain-free, sugar free diet, high fat diet and I feel great. My cholesterol and trig values are low and my HDL is sky high. Why are these so called heart health specialists misleading us???? - 1/31/2013 1:46:57 PM
  • VINSAKE
    All I want to say is I am glad there are others who dont agree with the information in this article. I have watched Fat Head, which is a great documentary. I highly recommend it to others who want to know more about why this information is incorrect. I am on a high fat, low carb diet, exercise 6 days per week and my health has improved dramatically. I have blood tests to support my claims, plus thousands of others who have achieved the same results. You'll find there are a lot of scientific studies to back this up if you look into it & not just one. - 9/17/2012 3:01:09 AM
  • BETINGO
    I am normal weight, exercise regularly, have low BP, great cholesterol numbers, eat a healthy and balanced diet, no family history of heart disease, and have an hourglass rather than an apple shape. At age 59 I had a heart attack! A tiny piece of plaque broke away from a blood vessel in my heart and caused a blockage. My cardiologist said I had better odds of being the single winner of the $135 million lottery that weekend than of having that heart attack! My GP was stunned. Luckily, I recognized the symptoms--differe
    nt in women than men, so educate yourselves ladies--called 911 immediately, and was in the OR having two stents put in within 90 minutes of the onset. Completely recovered now with no damage, though I struggled with depression and anxiety for about 9 months afterwards. Looking back, the only risk factor that my cardiologist and GP could come up with was stress from a combination of factors in my life. I have since added yoga and Tai Chi Chih to my exercise routine. I'm sure that the reason I regained my health so quickly is that I took care of myself to begin with and knew the symptoms of a heart attack in women. Next time I defy any odds I hope I end up with the $135 mil! - 3/25/2012 8:38:48 PM
  • MARTY32M
    As a heart patient, and editor of a monthly newsletter for an organization of heart patients, I believe this is a good unbiased overview of current knowledge of the risk factors for coronary heart disease (the most prevalent kind of heart disease).

    It isn't perfect. I like the comment by JENG829 about the uncertain role of saturated fat. But while I congratulate CHRIS3847 on the health of his long lived grandfather, a study with one subject proves nothing. I had low risk and a double bypass at 65. We know some statistical risk factors, but not clear and definite causes.

    My main complaint is not with the article itself but with its headlines. The title on the web page is "What Causes Heart Disease?" but the article lists risk factors, not causes. An email today linked to it with the heading "Calculate your heart attack risk" but while the article lists risk factors you can't calculate anything from it. But as a list of risk factors, I like it. - 3/15/2012 10:14:43 AM
  • Such interesting comments this article elicited!!! - 11/8/2011 8:48:59 PM
  • Recent analysis of studies has shown that saturated fat is not clearly linked to heart disease, so I wish these types of articles would be updated with that information.

    The only studies I've seen that showed red meat to be correlated with disease combine red meats & processed meats, which are two very different things. Processed meats often contain fillers & preservatives which are known carcinogens. Red meat is just, well, meat. Natural. If there are updated studies, I'd like to see those referenced instead ofthe same old substandard studies.

    This frustrates me because we have been told these "guidelines" for years, and many people I have known followed the guidelines, getting sicker and fatter in the process. There has to be something other than this "one size fits all" low-fat high-starch approach. - 8/9/2011 5:28:53 PM
  • Here we go again a vegan is going to tell us all how to live - well you know what my Grandpa ate RED MEAT his ENTIRE live and lived to be 98 and NEVER had heart disease!!! If I were you I wouldn't be quoting from the huffington post what a bunch of BS that thing spouts. - 7/28/2011 8:56:13 PM
  • Cardiologist Dr. Davis of the old heartscanblog.blo
    gspot.com now trackyourplaque believes wheat/gluten to be a culprit, too. He doesn't believe in whole grains ... can't help but appreciate his message knowing what I know, so I share with you to make your own decision: http://bit.ly/oaK
    ZJ2 . - 7/28/2011 11:35:55 AM

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