Living a healthy lifestyle can help keep blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight, and blood sugar levels normal and lower risk for heart disease. The first step toward preventing heart disease is to understand the possible risk factors and work with a doctor to control risk factors.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase the chance of developing a disease. For heart disease, there are two types of risk factors – those cannot be controlled and those that can. Luckily, individuals do have control over most of the risk factors for heart disease.
Rsk Factors That Can Not Be Controlled:
Age – Heart disease risk increases with age. Up to age 64, men are more likely to get high blood pressure than women are. At 65 and older, women are more likely to get high blood pressure.
Family History – Having an immediate family member with heart disease increases one’s risk.
Race - African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than other racial backgrounds in the United States.
Risk Factors That Can Be Controlled:
Smoking – Cigarette smoking increases the risk of heart disease. Tobacco can cause hardening of the arteries. Cigarettes also raise blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen the blood carries.
High Blood Pressure – Blood Pressure is the pressure exerted on the arteries when the heart pumps. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, and most people do not know that they have it.
High Cholesterol – Cholesterol is a fatty substance that builds up in the arteries. The body does require some fats and cholesterol in moderation, but having too much raises the risk of heart disease.
Obesity – Obesity is excess body fat. It has been linked to heart disease and its other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Nutrition – A high fat diet has been linked to heart disease risk.
Physical Inactivity – Not being physically active can raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Diabetes – People with diabetes have a much higher risk for heart disease.
Know the numbers
It is important for individuals to know what their blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI) are. People who have diabetes, or are at high risk, should also know their blood sugar (glucose). A doctor can advise on how often to have each of these tests done, based on an individual’s personal risk.
Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when the pressure level stays high for a long period of time without falling to a normal level. This can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Managing blood pressure is key to a healthy start.
Blood Pressure Categories
Systolic (mm Hg)
Diastolic (mm Hg)
less than 120
less than 80
120 – 129
less than 80
Hypertension (Stage 1)
130 – 139
80 – 89
Hypertension (Stage 2)
140 or higher
90 or higher
*CDC - High Blood Pressure
Cholesterol tests show the cholesterol levels in the blood. Total cholesterol is based on LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides. The HDL cholesterol in the blood is actually protective against heart disease, but the LDL cholesterol can increase risk of developing heart disease.
Getting cholesterol checked and talking to a doctor about these numbers can help people understand how they impact overall risk and can be used to provide personalized guidance. For more information about cholesterol, visit the CDC’s cholesterol information website.
A person's ideal body weight varies by gender, age, height and frame. Body mass index, a measure of body fat that is based on height and weight, is used as an indicator of a healthy weight. BMI can be calculated using an online tool.
30 or higher
People with a BMI classified as overweight or obese can talk with a doctor about changing their diet or exercising more to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of heart disease.
There are several blood tests that measure how much sugar is in the blood. People with higher blood sugar or "blood glucose" are at an increased risk of heart disease. The A1C measures average blood glucose over the past 2-3 months. The fasting blood sugar test measures blood sugar after an overnight fast, and the glucose tolerance test checks how the body moves sugar from the blood into the body tissues.
Blood Sugar Categories
Fasting Blood Sugar Test
Glucose Tolerance Test
99 mg/dL or below
140 mg/dL or below
6.5% or above
126 mg/dL or above
*CDC - Diabetes Tests
People with a high reading on these tests can talk to a doctor about what they can do to lower the reading and reduce their risk of diabetes, or control their diabetes if they have already been diagnosed.