Three of the Biggest Risk Factors for Heart Disease PeopleImages

Three of the Biggest Risk Factors for Heart Disease

What you can and can't control
Three of the Biggest Risk Factors for Heart Disease PeopleImages

Even though heart disease often makes the headlines, many people still dismiss it as something that happens to other people. But it is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, some of heart disease’s key risk factors like age and family history are beyond control. But there are plenty of other contributors that can be controlled.

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Managing stress is one, according to Julia Zumpano, a registered dietician in preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic.

“Whether it’s deep breathing, exercise or whatever form of stress management you need to do based on the level of stress that’s in your life,” she said. Getting enough sleep is another, and Zumpano said that seven to nine hours is what’s recommended for most people. Exercise also plays a big part.

“Any form of movement,” she said. “Whether you like to go to a gym three days a week, or whether you like to walk 10,000 steps or stand at your desk instead of sitting — just move.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all Americans have at least one of the three biggest risk factors for heart disease. So what are they?

High blood pressure, which, uncontrolled, can pose a major risk to your heart and other organs.

Smoking and tobacco use, which can damage your blood vessels and reduce the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.

And high levels of “bad” cholesterol, which builds up in arteries and decreases blood flow to important organs, including the heart and brain.


Since lifestyle choices are the biggest contributor to all three, taking inventory to see where you can make changes can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Quitting smoking and increasing daily physical activity are good places to start, along with managing cholesterol by eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and other foods that are good for your heart.