Reduce your heart disease risk factors

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A risk factor is something that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease. Risk factors for heart disease can be split into two types: those you can control and those you can’t, such as age or family history. For each risk factor you can reduce, your chance of heart attack and stroke goes down.

Many heart disease risk factors can be managed by making lifestyle changes and taking medication. These include:

Abnormal cholesterol

Abnormal cholesterol levels can increase your risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), leading to heart problems and even stroke. If your cholesterol test results are a concern, your provider will work with you to create a treatment plan, which may include diet, exercise, weight management and medication.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension occurs when blood pushes too hard against artery walls. Over time, it can cause heart problems. Generally, you’re at risk if you have: 
  • Blood pressure of 120/80 or higher. Your doctor may start discussing lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure at or below 120/80. 
  • Blood pressure of 130/80, which is considered high blood pressure. Your provider may suggest medication along with lifestyle changes.


The most important risk factor you can control is smoking. Smoking damages arteries, making it easier for plaque to build up, and increases your risk for blood clots and stroke. The use of any type of tobacco or nicotine, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars and pipes, is a risk factor.

Excess weight

When someone is overweight, other risk factors are more likely, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Extra weight around your stomach or waist increases your heart disease risk the most. This includes:

  • A waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men
  • A body mass index (BMI) greater than 25

Lack of exercise

Not getting enough physical activity increases your chances of having diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and excess weight. Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of activity each day, and start small if you need to work your way up to your goals.


Make healthy food choices by choosing fruits, legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, lean fish or lean animal protein at mealtimes. To help lower your heart risk, try to eat less margarine, cookies, crackers, fries, doughnuts and other snack foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils. In addition, drinking too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, increasing the risk for heart disease.

For optimal heart risk reduction, it’s important to know your risk factors and make changes where you can. It’s equally important to receive regular follow-up care, blood pressure screenings and any lab work your provider recommends.

Your health plan covers follow-up care and labs. For benefit information, contact the Sanford Health Plan customer service team.