Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

You Can Control Many Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Obesity & Diabetes

Obesity and Overweight

If you're 20 pounds over your ideal body weight, a definition of obesity, you'll be more likely to develop heart disease, even if you have no other risk factors. The excess weight can put a strain on your heart, raise your blood pressure and blood cholesterol and increase your risk of diabetes. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will help your heart out — and you'll feel and look better too.

Diabetes Mellitus
If you have diabetes, it's extremely important to work with your doctor to keep the disease under control. Diabetes greatly increases your risk of heart disease because it can affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels and makes high blood pressure more likely. Your doctor may recommend dietary changes, an exercise program, weight control or medication.

Psychological Factors
Are you feeling stressed or down? Have you stopped hanging out with friends and family? Believe it or not, psychosocial factors — depression, anxiety, social isolation, low socioeconomic status, and stress — can affect your heart health. The most significant ones are social isolation and depression. "They constitute a risk factor that's equivalent to high cholesterol or high blood pressure," says Alan Rozanski, M.D., a professor of medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. Furthermore, these risks tend to cluster together. For example, a person who's isolated tends to be depressed. They'll also be more likely to have poor lifestyle factors such as a lack of physical activity, smoking, drinking, and poor dietary habits. Here are some tips on beating these heart-defeating risk factors.

Don't be blue Fifteen percent of heart patients have significant depression and another 15 percent have depressive symptoms. If you're feeling down, see a health care provider. They may recommend counseling or medication. The important thing is to get help, says Dr. Rozanski, especially because this is an easily treatable risk factor.

  • Don't go solo Surrounding yourself with friends and family is a smart heart decision. One study found that people with a small social network were two to three times more likely to develop coronary artery disease. If you'd like to expand the people you know, join a group of some kind — whether it's to share a mutual interest or to volunteer.
  • Slow down "There are any number of people who can live very busy lives and that's okay," says Dr. Rozanski. "But you've got to have flexibility and balance." If you feel that you're constantly stressed, then you are. It's important to recognize this and find ways to insert quiet, down time into your busy, harried schedule.
  • Be like a Buddha Several studies have shown transcendental meditation to successfully lower high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and even reverse some hardening of the arteries. For more information on how to learn TM, visit