Most risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are linked. This means that if you have one risk factor you'll probably also have others.
An example of linked risks is that obese people are found to be more likely to have diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
This means that to significantly reduce your risk of developing CVD, you need to look at your lifestyle as a whole.
In particular, you need to consider:
- your diet
- your weight
- the amount of alcohol you drink
- the amount of exercise and physical activity you do
- whether you need to stop smoking
For a healthy heart, a low fat, high fibre diet that includes whole grains and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day) is recommended.
Your diet should include no more than 6g (0.2oz or one teaspoon) of salt a day, as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. This amount is contained in the everyday food and drinks you consume so avoid seasoning or cooking with added salt. It's also a good idea to limit the amount of salty foods you eat, such as ready-made meals and canned or tinned food.
Avoid eating foods high in saturated fat, as they will increase your cholesterol level. This includes:
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- butter and ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
- hard cheese
- cakes and biscuits
- foods that contain coconut or palm oil
Find out more about maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
Exercise and weight management
If you're overweight or obese, you can lose weight using a combination of regular exercise and a calorie-controlled diet.
The recommendation for adults is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every day, at least 5 days a week. Cycling or brisk walking are examples of moderate intensity exercise.
Other activities you could incorporate into your exercise programme include:
- hill walking
If you find it difficult to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, start at a level you feel comfortable with. Break it down into 10 minute chunks throughout the day.
Find out how to keep active
The amount of alcohol you drink
If you drink alcohol, you should not exceed the recommended daily limits:
- 3 to 4 units for men
- 2 to 3 units for women
A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a single measure (25ml) of spirits. It's important to check the percentage proof on the label of the drink bottle or can, as some can be higher than the average unit volume.
You should see your GP if you are finding it difficult to moderate your drinking. Counselling services and medication can help you reduce your alcohol intake.
Find out how to drink alcohol responsibly
If you smoke, it is strongly recommended you give up as soon as possible.
Find some effective ways to stop smoking, or phone Quit Your Way Scotland for free on 0800 84 84 84 (7 days a week, 8.00am to 10.00pm) for advice and support.
If you have a particularly high risk of developing CVD, your GP may prescribe medication to help reduce your risk.
Medication used to prevent CVD includes:
- blood pressure tablets (such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors) – used to treat high blood pressure
- statins – used to lower blood cholesterol levels
- low-dose aspirin – used to prevent blood clots