Lifestyle choices

It's never too late to make positive changes to your lifestyle! There are huge benefits to stopping smoking, being more active, limiting alcohol and eating more healthily.

How can I reduce my risk of CVD?

There are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of Cardiovascular Disease. See below and click to read more about how you can help to keep your heart happy.

Live well

Small and simple changes could make a huge difference! A healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent CVD. See below for more information.

Know your numbers!

Most people know their weight, but do you know what your blood pressure is? Or your cholesterol? The only way to find out is to get checked. See below for more information.

Healthy Hearts

1. High blood pressure

Know your numbers...

Having a healthy blood pressure is essential to maintaining a healthy heart.

Across Lancashire & South Cumbria around one in four people are estimated to have high blood pressure (hypertension), a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

What’s your blood pressure? Do you know your numbers? Next time you see your doctor or practice nurse, ask them to check.

3. High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is vital for the normal functioning of the body. It's mainly made by the liver, but can also be found in some foods.

High cholesterol itself doesn't usually cause any CVD symptoms, but if you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can increase your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

The first step in reduce cholesterol is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It's important to eat a diet low in fatty food.

You can swap food containing saturated fat for fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals. This will also help prevent high cholesterol reoccurring.

Other lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and stopping smoking (if you do smoke), can also significantly help to lower cholesterol.

If these measures don't reduce your cholesterol and you continue to have a high risk of developing heart disease, your GP may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication, such as statins.

5. Poorly controlled diabetes

People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

Diabetes makes it difficult for the body to control blood sugar levels.  High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and cause a range of complications such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke and angina.

If you have diabetes make sure that you have all of your regular check-ups with your doctor and/or practice nurse.  These include:

  • measuring your blood glucose level (HbA1c), blood pressure and cholesterol level
  • retinal (eye) screening
  • foot and leg check
  • blood and urine testing (to check kidney function)
  • weight check
  • smoking status

You can find out more information about diabetes and cardiovascular disease from:

Diabetes UK 
British Heart Foundation

7. Too much alcohol

When a sociable tipple becomes a health risk …

Do you know how much you are drinking?  Keep a drinks diary for a week to help you find out.  You might be surprised!

Drinking more than the recommended units of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and on your health generally.

It can cause abnormal heart rhythmshigh blood pressureheart failure, as well as strokeliver problems and some cancers.

9. Stress


Stress contributes to high blood pressure, which is also a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Spotting the early signs of stress will also help prevent it getting worse and potentially causing serious complications, such as  high blood pressure.

If you’re struggling with stress, there’s lots of useful information about how to manage it at NHS Choices.

If you're aged 40-74 years old you may be eligible for a FREE NHS health check. Part of this check involves assessing your individual CVD risk and advising you how to reduce it.

Find out about how to handle stress here.

2. Smoking

Time to quit smoking!

Giving up smoking is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your heart health.

That’s because people who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who don’t smoke.

The Stop Smoking Services will help you quit. They are free and easy to use. You could also download this free NHS stop smoking app to your mobile phone.

In next to no time you will feel the health and financial benefits of stopping smoking, including:

  • reducing the risk of developing illnesses and death caused by cancer, heart and lung disease – 90 per cent of all cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking;
  • getting rid of the nicotine in your body: after stopping smoking for 48 hours there is none left, which will make a huge difference to your sense of smell and taste;
  • improved fitness levels making it easier to run or play with your children, family or friends;
  • saving money: giving up a 20-a-day habit will save you over £45 a week. Quitters will save over £2,000 in a single year!
  • Some tips to help you quit:
    • call your local free stop smoking service.
    • write down all the reasons you want to stop and stick it on the fridge to help you stay motivated;
    • keep yourself busy;
    • talk to your friends, family and workmates – support from them is essential. Why not quit together to help keep each other motivated?

4. Overweight

Are you a healthy weight?

Have a look at the NHS BMI healthy weight calculator to help you decide.

You can use the NHS weight loss plan which is a free 12-week diet and exercise plan available as an app for your smartphone.

6. Inactivity

Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had, but for too long we’ve neglected to take our recommended dose.

Whatever your age, there's strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life.

People who are active regularly are less likely to develop many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers.

Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy. It can also reduce the risk of developing stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What counts?

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active every day and try to be physically active (through a variety of activities) for at least 150 minutes in total every week.

For most people, the easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life. Why not walk or cycle instead of using the car to get around? The more you do, the healthier you'll feel, while taking part in activities such as sports and exercise will make you even healthier.

For any type of activity to benefit your health, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer. This level of effort is called moderate intensity activity. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

If your activity requires you to work even harder, it is called  vigorous intensity activity. There is substantial evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity.

You can tell when it’s vigorous activity because you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has increased quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

There’s lots of information about building up and maintaining your fitness on the Live Well pages at NHS Choices.

Click below to find out if you're doing enough for your age:

8. Unhealthy diet

Eat well!

There’s lots of ways you can help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

We recommend eating a healthy, balanced, high-fibre diet – that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day)  and whole grains.

Too much salt will increase your blood pressure, so it’s best to limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than about a teaspoon (6g) a day.

There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • ghee, a type of butter often used in Indian cooking
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • foods that contain coconut or palm oil

But a balanced diet should still include unsaturated fats, which increase levels of good cholesterol and help reduce any blockage in your arteries.  Foods high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils

You should also try to avoid too much sugar in your diet as this can increase your chances of developing diabetes, which is proven to dramatically increase your chances of developing CHD.

Read more about:

healthy eating

eating less saturated fat

the facts about sugar

the facts about salt

If you're aged 40-74 years old you may be eligible for a FREE NHS health check. Part of this check involves assessing your individual CVD risk and advising you how to reduce it.

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