Adopting a healthy diet and an active lifestyle can lower your risk of heart disease
12/02/2022 // Olivia Cook // Views

There are risk factors (often behavioral) that increase the likelihood of developing heart disease.

Some risk factors cannot be controlled, but you can take steps to lower your risk by addressing the factors you can control. (Related: Predicting heart disease accurately.)

Genes control every aspect of the cardiovascular system – from the strength of the blood vessels to the way cells in the heart communicate with other vital organs and systems in your body.

Genetic variations (mutations) are inherited traits that are passed on from parents to children. If one of your parents has a faulty gene, there's a 50:50 chance you could inherit it. If you do, then there's also a 50:50 chance you could pass it on to each of your children.

The good news is a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has found that lifestyle factors can overrule inherited heart conditions.

"Just because your family history puts you at greater risk of heart disease doesn't mean you'll develop it. Making even a relatively modest effort to live healthfully can cut your risk of heart disease by up to 50 percent," said Dr. Pradyumna Tummala, cardiology section chief at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

Family members are encouraged to undergo screening for risk factors and early-stage diseases that may not yet produce symptoms when a close blood relative is found to have genetic markers associated with heart disease or a history of having heart disorders (heart attacks and heart blockages).

Here are some of the things you can do to protect yourself from cardiovascular disease:


Eat healthily

Heart disease also tends to run in families because of shared lifestyle habits. If your parents eat a high-sodium, high-fat and high-sugar diet, you're more likely to eat the same.

A study published by the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis has concluded that the types of food that our ancestors ate were "more diverse and nutrient-dense" compared to what we’re eating now – monotonous diets of staple cereals and ready-to-eat processed and ultra-processed foods. (Related: Experts and studies recommend eating like your ancestors to boost longevity.)

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, meanwhile, has found that people scored better on the Healthy Eating Index when they cooked meals at home because they are more mindful of what they were putting into their bodies compared to those who placed a higher priority on convenience foods.

Engage in regular physical activity

Exercise burns extra calories to help maintain a healthy weight, helps to control cholesterol levels and diabetes and supports healthy blood pressure levels. Exercise also strengthens the heart muscle and makes the arteries more flexible

Health experts encourage people in non-manual labor jobs to reduce sedentary behaviors within their respective workplaces, and for those engaged in heavy manual labor to take breaks between heavy tasks to reduce "overuse" injuries.

Avoid tobacco use

Smoking tightens major arteries and can create irregularities in the timing of heartbeats – all of which make the heart muscle work harder and can damage the heart and blood vessels, increasing your risk for heart conditions.

Nicotine and other chemicals and compounds like tar and carbon monoxide raise blood pressure – damaging your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and leads to a heart disease.

Drink alcohol moderately

Experts say that drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can cause heart-related problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats and cardiomyopathy (problems with your heart muscle that make it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of the body).

A "moderate" intake of alcohol is an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. One drink is defined as one and a half fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits, one fl oz of 100-proof spirits, four fl oz of wine or 12 fl oz of beer.

Additionally, the "average" drink has between 100-200 calories. The high caloric intake due to alcohol consumption often adds fat to the body, which may increase the risk of heart disease.

Keep a healthy weight

Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure.

Exercising regularly reduces the risk of having a heart attack, makes the heart and the blood circulatory system function more efficiently, lowers unhealthy cholesterol levels and keeps the blood pressure at a healthy level.

For more tips on how to boost your heart health, visit

Watch this video that talks about cholesterol.

This video is from the Take Control of Your Health channel on

More related stories:

Heart disease: Causes and cures.

The great cholesterol debate and heart disease.

Heart disease and the aborted trial of a drug to raise HDL.

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