Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. Some you can control, others you cannot. To assess your risk for heart disease visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Being Overweight or Obese
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Age – Men over 45, Women over 55
  • Gender – Postmenopausal women have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Family History of Heart Attack or Stroke
  • Ethnicity – First Nations, and people of African or South Asian descent are at higher risk of heart disease and stroke

The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk for developing heart disease.

Reduce Your Risk

There are many ways you can reduce your risk for heart disease.

Manage Your Blood Sugars

If left untreated or improperly managed, diabetes can result in a variety of complications, including: heart disease, kidney disease, eye disease, impotence and nerve damage. People with diabetes are at very high risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, up to 80% of people with diabetes will die as a result of a heart attack or stroke. In addition, people with diabetes may develop these types of problems at a younger age.

The good news is that people with diabetes can lower their risk of heart disease and stroke considerably by paying careful attention to all of their risk factors. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through regular physical activity and healthy eating are important, but most people with diabetes will also require a number of medications to reach these goals.

Blood glucose target: A1C of at least under 7.0%

Reduce Your BAD Cholesterol

When your doctor says you have high cholesterol, he is talking about LDL or bad cholesterol. It is “bad” because high levels lead the build-up of plaque in the artery walls. Sometimes the high LDL is a gift from your parents. But most of the time, it is from your diet – and it’s a major problem. Think plumbing – your arteries are the pipes that your blood flows through to your body and heart – LDL is the gunk that clogs your pipes. It can make it more difficult for blood to flow through your heart and body, putting you at increased risk of circulatory problems, heart disease and stroke. This narrowing is called Atherosclerosis.

What can you do?

  1. Reduce your fat intake to 20-35% of your daily calories.
  2. Choose healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts and fish
  3. Limit your intake of saturated fat found mainly in red meat and high-fat dairy products.
  4. Avoid trans fats often found in foods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, hard margarines, fast foods and many pre-made foods. Trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.
  5. Use Canada’s Food Guide to plan a healthier diet. Eat more whole grains, cereals, vegetables and fruit.
  6. Snack wisely. Choose low-salt pretzels, plain popcorn or fruit, rather than higher-fat or junk food types of snacks.
  7. Use lower-fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling or steaming and try to avoid fried food.
  8. Be smoke-free. Smoking increases LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  9. Get physically active. Being active most days of the week can improve good cholesterol levels.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy body weight is an important part of keeping you and your heart healthy. You do not have to achieve your ideal weight before you see benefits. A 5-10% reduction will result in improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels. When you lose weight, it has an impact on just about every other risk factor. So it’s a great place to start. It will make managing the other risk factors a lot easier. Committing to lose weight will lower your blood pressure, your “bad” cholesterol, your blood sugar and your stress and raise your mood.

Lower Your Blood Pressure

An individual’s ideal blood pressure is determined by their personal risk factors. For most patients, we target blood pressure reading at less than 140/90 in the doctor’s office, or less than 135/85 in the community. In patients with diabetes or kidney issues, a blood pressure of 130/80 may be ideal.

By taking your medication as prescribed and making some lifestyle changes, you can bring your blood pressure down to a healthy range and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. In fact, controlling your blood pressure reduces your risk of having a stroke by 40%, a heart attack by 20-25% and heart failure by 50%.

Reduce the Stress in Your Life

Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. People react to stress in different ways; some are healthy responses, while others are not. It is important to understand what causes stress in your life and find ways to reduce it, or deal with it in a healthy way.

Download this pdf from the Heart & Stroke Foundation to find more information on dealing with stress.

Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking can do more than reduce your risk of heart disease, it can reduce your risk for cancer, and improve your breathing. Quitting smoking is hard, and there are many approaches you can take. Your local pharmacist is a great resource for help with quitting smoking.

Quitting Time Health Benefits
20 minutes Blood pressure and pulse rate decreases.
8 hours Oxygen level goes back to normal and carbon monoxide levels drop.
48 hours Chances of having a heart attack decreases and sense of smell and taste start improving.
72 hours Breathing will get easier as your bronchial tubes relax and lung capacity begins to increase.
2 weeks to 3 months Circulation improves, exercising becomes easier and lung capacity can increase by as much as 30%.
6 months Improvements in coughing, sinus congestion, tiredness, shortness of breath and colds.
1 year 50% reduction in risk of smoking-related heart attack.
5 years Risk of having a stroke is now reduced to that of a non-smoker.
10 years Risk of dying from lung cancer will decrease by half.
15 years Risk of dying from a heart attack is the same as a person who has never smoked.

For more resources please visit Alberta Quits.