What are the risk factors for developing heart disease?

The risk factors for cardiovascular disease include family history, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, certain foods and male gender. Some of these factors cannot be changed (gender and family history). Therefore, it is important to control those factors that we can.

What are some tips to reduce my blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of heart attack?

  • No smoking! This is the most powerful cause of cardiovascular disease.
  • Reasonable weight loss is often very effective alone at reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of diabetes.
  • Eat a healthy, diverse, home-cooked diet. The DASH diet is high in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts; and low in sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats.
  • Particularly important: Avoid trans-fats, also known as “partially hydrogenated” fats or oils. Even if a food lists “0 grams trans-fat,” you need to check for partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Aerobic exercise lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol. It also helps with weight loss, improved mood, improved sleep and improved memory. Find an activity that you enjoy that makes you out of breath and stick to a regimen of 20 minutes three times a week at the minimum. Usually, it is necessary to start with shorter times, such as 8 minutes, and gradually add time one minute each week or so to get up to a full 20 minutes. Good exercises include jump rope, jogging, swimming, treadmill, elliptical, spinning, martial arts classes, aerobics programs/videos and basketball. “Start and stop” exercise such as baseball, football or golf are not effective.
  • Sleep! Sleep is when the body heals and grows. A regular sleep schedule with the same bedtime every night and at least 8 hours of sleep lowers blood pressure, helps with stress and anxiety reduction, weight loss, improved mood, improved healing and improved memory. Blue light from screen time in the hour before bed causes poor sleep – use amber glasses or “night shift” option on iPhones® to reduce blue light exposure in the evening.

Who can I contact if I have questions?

Please don’t hesitate to contact Pediatric Cardiology at MassGeneral Hospital for Children at 888-644-3248 if you have any additional questions about your child’s heart.

Rev. 9/2018. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.