Gina Crome by Gina Crome

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. and generates more than $3 billion annually in healthcare costs (Go, 2014). According to the Centers for Disease for Control and Prevention, about 600,000 individuals will die each year from heart disease in the U.S. This equates to about one in every four deaths. CVD is a generic term that covers a number of condition,s including coronary heart disease (CHD), coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attacks and heart failure, among others.

Am I at Risk?

Lifestyle habits and everyday behavior can play a significant role in the development of heart disease. The following represent the more risk factors associated with cardiovascular complications.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

High cholesterol

High blood pressure




Family history

Chronic stress

Sleep apnea

Excessive alcohol usage


Unhealthy diet

Lack of physical activity

The good news is that heart disease is preventable and there are a number of simple ways to keep your heart healthy for years to come.

How Can I Lower My Risk Factors?

Aside from age and family history, you can decrease your chances of developing CVD by staying active, improving your diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, unhealthy blood cholesterol levels and diabetes, all of which are among the major risk factors for heart disease.

Your diet represents a controllable risk factor in your effort to avoid cardiovascular complications. Heart-healthy food choices may simply mean paying greater attention to reasonable portion sizes and minimizing saturated fat and sodium, while eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The USDA’s ChooseMyPlate program can help ensure appropriate portion sizes, including eating adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates, while also incorporating more plant-based foods. This approach can also help you fill up on fewer calories, while consuming vital nutrients that play an important role in regulating blood pressure. 

In addition to portion size, limiting saturated fats and sodium is also important to maintaining heart health. Saturated fats (mostly from animal origin) should be kept to no more than 10 percent of total calories. Similarly, trans fats, which are typically added to processed foods, should be consumed minimally, if at all. 

Sodium, which is used as both a preservative and flavor enhancer, is another nutrient of concern. The typical American diet contains about three times the recommended daily amount of 1,500 mg. Because a majority of daily sodium typically comes from processed and restaurant foods, rather than the salt shaker, it’s important to pay attention to nutrition labels and plan your meals ahead of time.   

With a healthier eating plan and regular physical activity, you’ll not only reduce your risk of heart disease, you’ll also feel so much better knowing you’ve taken that extra step toward improving the quality of your life.


Go, A.S. et al. (2013). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: A report from the American Heart Association, 127, 1, e6-e245. 

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