Preventing Heart Disease: Three Ways to Lower Your Risk

Posted on January 2, 2011 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated March 11, 2021

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women—but it doesn't have to be a death sentence for you. According to a Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, there are three major risk factors for heart disease that are within your control.

At least 8 in every 10 of the people who develop heart disease have one or more of these risk factors:

  • Lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Here are a few suggestions for addressing each of those three factors.

Increasing Your Activity Level: Move Like Your Life Depends On It

As many as 250,000 deaths per year in the United States are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity. The good news is that even small amounts of exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease. In research recently published in Circulation magazine:

  • People who met the current minimum standards recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services (2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise a week) reduced their risk of heart disease by 14 percent.
  • Those who did more exercise—about 300 minutes a week, or five hours—reduced their risk of heart disease, including heart attacks, angina and bypass surgeries, by 20 percent compared to people who did no exercise, the study found.

Getting exercise doesn't have to be complicated or lifestyle altering. Many of your daily life activities—doing active chores around the house, yard work, walking the dog—help you meet the minimum guidelines.

Your exercise schedule should also include some aerobic activities that make you breathe harder and make your heart and blood vessels healthier—such as brisk walking, running, dancing, swimming and playing basketball. Activities like push-ups and lifting weights are good for increasing muscle strength while meeting your exercise guidelines. Try to find activities that you enjoy doing—and then make them part of your regular routine.

Before starting a new exercise routine, consult your doctor or call VITAL WorkLife Nurseline at 1.866.220.3138 for information about which types of exercise are most appropriate for your age and medical condition.

Lowering Your Cholesterol: Diet, Exercise—And, For Many, Medication

High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. When there is too much cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes "hardening of the arteries" so that arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

People age 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every 5 years. A total cholesterol level of under 200 is desirable, levels from 200 to 239 are borderline high and levels over 240 are considered high.

While you have no control over some of the factors that affect cholesterol, such as age, gender and heredity—there are things you can do to lower your cholesterol:

  • Reducing the saturated fat in your diet (to less than 7 percent of your total calories from saturated fat and less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol per day)
  • Exercising more (at least 30 minutes a day)
  • Losing weight (if your weight is a contributing factor)
  • Quitting smoking

In addition to lifestyle changes, there are several types of drugs available for cholesterol lowering including statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, fibric acids and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Your doctor can help decide which type of drug is best for you.

Questions or concerns about your cholesterol? Call VITAL WorkLife Nurseline at 1.866.220.3138—any time of the day or night—to speak to a registered nurse.

Arresting The Silent Killer: Managing Your Blood Pressure

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, one in three American adults has high blood pressure or hypertension—but many of them are unaware of it. Often called "the silent killer," hypertension has no symptoms or warning signs but can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

It's normal for blood pressure to go up and down through the day, but when your blood pressure is consistently high, it can damage everything from your arteries and heart to your kidneys and eyes. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases progressively the higher your blood pressure goes.

Easy To Diagnose And Treat

If you're diagnosed with prehypertension (higher than 120/80 but under 130/89) or hypertension (higher than 140/90), you need to take immediate action to protect your health.

Research shows that high blood pressure can be prevented—and lowered—by following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that are heart healthy and low in salt and sodium. Exercising between 30 and 60 minutes daily has also proven helpful in lowering blood pressure.

For many, lifestyle changes in diet and exercise are enough to bring their blood pressure under control. For others, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes is required—and some people require more than one medication.

Consult your doctor or call VITAL WorkLife Nurseline at 1.866.220.3138 if you need more information about measuring or managing your blood pressure.

Hear More About Preventing Heart Disease Using the Nurseline Audio Library

The Nurseline Audio Library has information on a wide variety of health and safety topics. To hear more about preventing heart disease, call 866.220.3138 and push 2. When prompted, punch in:

  • Code 1904 for the audio file on Heart Attack Prevention
  • Code 1832 for the audio file on High Cholesterol
  • Code 1909 for the audio file on High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908

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