World Heart Day is an international campaign to spread awareness and inform people about heart disease and stroke prevention. Starting in 2000, it globally takes place on 29 September each year. Each year World Heart Day has a theme to it and this year’s theme addresses the importance of a life-course approach to the prevention and control of cardiovascular disease with a focus in particular on women and children. The campaign will also highlight what actions can be taken through a person’s life to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

By reading this article, we hope you will be more knowledgeable about what factors can lead to different cardiovascular diseases, also hoping that you will become more proactive in preventing these diseases.

Cardiovascular disease risk factors can be both controllable and uncontrollable. Uncontrollable factors include:

  • Your age. Getting older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries as well as a weakened heart muscle, which contribute to heart disease.
  • Your sex. Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. However, the risk for a woman increases after menopause.
  • Family history. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative and 65 for a female relative).

Controllable factors are the ones you need to be most aware of and need to act upon. These include:

  • Smoking. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than non-smokers.
  • Poor diet. A diet that's high in fat, salt and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
  • High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis. Plaques can be caused by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as "bad" cholesterol, or a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as "good" cholesterol.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both types share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
  • Obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.
  • Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors as well.
  • High stress. Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
  • Poor hygiene. Not regularly washing your hands and failure to establish other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition.

Being aware of the causes of Cardiovascular Diseases is only half the battle. Ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease are:

  • Quit smoking. If you smoke, quit. Non-smokers who are exposed to constant smoke (e.g. living with someone who smokes) also have an increased risk. So eliminating this exposure to smoke is important.
  • Improve cholesterol levels. A diet low in cholesterol and saturated and trans fat will help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease. Regular exercise will also help lower "bad" cholesterol and raise "good" cholesterol.
  • Control high blood pressure. Nearly one in three adults have systolic blood pressure (the upper number) over 140, and/or diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) over 90, which is the definition of hypertension. Control blood pressure through diet, exercise and weight management.
  • Control diabetes. If not properly controlled, diabetes can contribute to significant heart damage, including heart attacks and death. Again, control diabetes through a healthy diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Get active. Many of us exercise infrequently or not at all. People who don't exercise have higher rates of death and heart disease compared to people who perform even mild to moderate amounts of physical activity. Even leisure-time activities like gardening or walking can lower your risk of heart disease. Most people should exercise 30 minutes a day, at moderate intensity, on most days. More vigorous activities are associated with more benefits. Exercise should be aerobic, involving the large muscle groups. Aerobic activities include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and jogging. Consult your doctor or trainer before starting any exercise program.
  • Eat right. Eat a healthy diet low in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and refined sugars. Try to increase your intake of foods rich in vitamins and other nutrients, especially antioxidants, which have been proven to lower your risk for heart disease. Also eat plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.
  • Manage stress. Poorly controlled stress can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Learn to manage stress by practicing relaxation techniques, learning how to manage your time, setting realistic goals, and trying some new techniques such as going for a brief walk during the working day, massage or yoga.