Risk factors for cardiovascular disease
- Cardiovascular disease, such as heart and artery disease, is caused by a combination of lifestyle factors and non-modifiable risk factors.
- Lifestyle factors that can contribute to cardiovascular health or disease are known as modifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors include physical activity levels, dietary choices, stress levels, blood cholesterol, blood pressure, intake or exposure to smoke, blood sugar levels, and sleep quality.
- There are some risk factors that may contribute to cardiovascular disease which you do not have control over, known as non-modifiable risk factors. Non-modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease include your age, ethnicity, and family history.
Modifiable risk factors
- Physical activity levels: An inactive lifestyle has been strongly linked to cardiovascular disease and several other chronic diseases. Regular, moderate to vigorous exercise can improve the health of your heart and arteries and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Aim to accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of cardio-based exercise per week, and at least two days of resistance training per week.
- Dietary choices: What you eat and how much you eat matters. Foods high in sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and trans-fat can contribute to high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, high blood sugar levels, and inflammation in the arteries. This can lead to heart and artery disease. Aim to include plant-based foods as often as possible. Plant-based foods are rich in fibre, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Plant-based foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Fatty fish and olive oil are also healthy choices.
- Stress levels: There is a strong link between cardiovascular disease and unmanaged or chronic stress. If you experience any symptoms from stress or notice changes to your behaviour, it is important to follow up with your doctor. For some, relaxation techniques can help. If you are experiencing symptoms of stress, try our short relaxation video. For more information on stress, visit our Stress & Your Health
- Blood cholesterol levels: Blood cholesterol, specifically that which is carried by low-density lipoprotein (LDL) molecules and blood triglycerides can lead to plaque and inflammation in the arteries. There are several ways to manage blood cholesterol levels, including regular exercise, eating whole, minimally processed foods more often, and taking your medications as prescribed. Speak to your doctor to review your targets. For more information on cholesterol and triglyceride levels, visit our Cholesterol & Triglyceride section.
- Blood pressure levels: High blood pressure can damage your arteries and put a strain on your heart. When the blood vessels are damaged, blood pressure becomes harder to manage, and the risk of developing plaque in the arteries increases. For most people living with cardiovascular disease, the recommended resting blood pressure is less than 140/90 mmHg. There are other blood pressure targets for those living with diabetes or chronic kidney disease. To manage blood pressure, exercise regularly, choose whole, minimally processed foods, limit your exposure to smoke, manage your stress, ensure you are getting good sleep, and take your medications as prescribed. For more information on blood pressure, visit our High Blood Pressure section.
- Intake or exposure to smoke: Smoking, or exposure to smoke, can harm almost every organ in the body, including the heart, arteries, and lungs. Reducing exposure to smoke will have a positive impact on your health. When planning to reduce exposure to smoke, develop a plan and get support. For more information on smoking, visit our Smoking & Your Health section.
- Blood sugar levels: High blood sugar levels can damage the interior lining of your arteries in your heart and body. When blood vessels are damaged, the risk of developing plaque in the arteries increases. High blood sugar levels can also lead to kidney and nerve damage. To improve your blood sugar control, exercise regularly, choose whole, minimally processed foods, limit your exposure to smoke, limit alcohol intake, manage your stress, ensure you are getting enough sleep, and take your medications as prescribed. For more information on blood sugars, visit our Blood Sugar & Your Health section.
- Sleep quality: Sleep plays an important role in your cardiovascular health. There are several complications to poor sleep, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, waist circumference, high blood sugars, mental health concerns, and a weakened immune system. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. For some, an evening relaxation video can help. Try our evening relaxation session. For more information on sleep, visit our Sleep & Your Health section.
Want more information?
- Speak to your Exercise Therapist.
- Speak to your family doctor, cardiologist, or pharmacist.
- View our Heart Healthy Education: Exercise & Vascular Health, Heart Healthy Eating, and Understanding Heart Medications.
- View our Modifiable Risk Factor Handout