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Top 5 Risk Factors for Heart Disease

        Health | Heart

1
Lifestyle
If a cigarette-and-booze combo is your idea of a good time, your body's going to get its revenge.
If a cigarette-and-booze combo is your idea of a good time, your body's going to get its revenge.
Henry Horenstein/Getty Images

Unlike other causes of heart disease such as genetics, gender or age, you can help prevent one major cause of heart disease -- your lifestyle. If you smoke, try your hardest to quit. Smoking increases blood pressure and damages your heart's tissues. Obesity is a big contributor to heart disease, so eat a low-fat diet and get exercise as often as you can, ideally for a half-hour at least four times a week. Drink like Ben Franklin's advice, but not like Ben Franklin's habits -- in moderation. A daily serving of alcohol may in fact improve your heart's health [source: AHA].

Lack of exercise and poor diet can increase the amount of low-density ("bad") cholesterol in your bloodstream. This accumulates as plaque inside your arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. A good diet and exercise can simultaneously lower bad cholesterol and raise "good" (high-density) cholesterol, which rids the body of the low-density variety­.

High blood pressure strains the heart, but exercise, a low-salt diet and medications can help. Stress is no good for your heart, and it can nudge you toward unhealthy comforts like alcohol, tobacco or overeating. If life gets you down, clear your head, exercise or take a nice relaxing nap in some yoga pants. Women using birth control pills are also at higher risk of heart attack, especially if they smoke [source: Haynes].

A smart diet, exercise and good lifestyle choices are entirely within your reach. For lots more information on heart disease, see the next page.