Heart health disease risk factors

- Cholesterol and the heart -

Lifestyle choices play a big part in the development of most risk factors.

Check your potential risk factors

Coronary heart disease has several risk factors. Some of these, such as age, sex or genetic background–, cannot be controlled, but you can minimize your overall risk level if you take care of the risk factors that are controllable. Controllable risk factors include blood cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and smoking. The more risk factors you have, the higher the total risk becomes.




High cholesterol

High cholesterol is one of the main controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke. The cholesterol carried by low density lipoprotein (LDL), i.e. the 'bad' type of cholesterol, collects in the walls of blood vessels and may cause blockages in the arteries, thus, increasing your risk of coronary heart disease. Lifestyle choices, such as the decision to eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of high-fibre vegetables and fruits, vegetable oils and spreads with a high content of unsaturated fats, as well as Benecol products with added Plant stanol ester, can help you keep your cholesterol levels low.


High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure is a condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is high enough to cause larger arteries to become more rigid and smaller vessels to become narrower. This restricts the body's blood flow and can even lead to a heart attack. Lifestyle choices, which can help lower your blood pressure, include regular exercise, refraining from smoking and limiting the intake of salt and alcohol.


Excess weight and obesity

Excess weight puts a strain on your heart. It raises your blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as lowers the 'good' HDL cholesterol level in your blood. It also makes diabetes more likely to develop. Extra weight is especially harmful if it gathers around your mid-section. Healthy eating habits and regular exercise are key factors to maintaining healthy weight.


Physical inactivity

Lack of exercise has an effect on several markers of your health. It can, for instance, potentially lower the ‘good' HDL cholesterol level in your blood. Any kind of exercise is beneficial for your health, and small changes in your daily routine can make a big difference. Even a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day can help to strengthen your heart muscle!



A smoker's heart is under unnecessary strain all the time. Nicotine, which is a key component of tobacco products, increases your blood pressure and pulse. Smoke decreases the intake of oxygen so that your heart needs to beat quicker in order to supply enough oxygen to the body. Smoking impairs the functioning of blood vessels by several other mechanisms as well. The healthy thing to do is to quit, or at least significantly reduce smoking.



Alcohol consumption

A small amount of alcohol  (no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women– ) may slightly lower your odds for coronary heart disease. If you are drinking more than this, the harm quickly exceeds the benefits. Drinking too much alcohol can, for example, raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke, liver disease and cancer. Also keep in mind that if you don't currently use alcohol, there are no health-related reasons to start doing so.



Living a stressful life impacts your heart health as well. In an acute stress reaction your body releases a hormone called adrenaline that causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. If this reaction becomes chronic, it puts a strain on your heart. 



The older we get, the longer unhealthy habits and raised risk factors have time to cause damage to our health. Age does not need to be a significant risk factor if we manage to learn and maintain healthy habits from an early age. The earlier you make different lifestyle changes, the better–, but remember that it is never too late to start a new, healthier life!

Female hormones protect younger women from having rising cholesterol levels as easily as men of the same age. After menopause, women lose this protection, and their cholesterol levels usually rapidly meet the levels of men.


What about diabetes?

Diabetes is a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease. The risk of cardiovascular events is two to five times higher in people with diabetes, compared to non-diabetic individuals. Healthy eating habits, regular exercise and effective treatment of all risk factors for heart disease are especially important, if you have diabetes.



Many genes impact your risk of heart disease. If one of your parents has had heart problems such as angina pectoris, heart attack, or stroke, your risk of heart disease may be elevated. Talk to your doctor and follow your treatment plan carefully. Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a condition in which high cholesterol levels are caused by an inherited genetic factor.

If you have FH, your cholesterol is higher than normal already from birth. A healthy lifestyle is especially important in this case, as the risk of getting heart disease at an early age increases if the condition is left untreated. However, cholesterol-lowering medication is also needed to treat this medical condition.