Whilst there are some risk factors which you cannot change, such as your age and gender at birth – with males often developing heart disease up to a decade earlier, there are many which you can! In fact, the WHO estimates that 80% of all premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable2.
Who is at risk of heart disease?
Heart disease is complex, with multiple risk factors. Our health assessment data indicates that of the main modifiable risk factors, 1 in 2 are overweight or obese, 1 in 5 have elevated blood pressure, 1 in 5 have a poor cholesterol profile and 1 in 20 have poor glucose regulation3. But, other than weight and waist size (which we can check using little more than a mirror) many of the other risk factors remain largely unchecked until signs and symptoms of heart disease develop, like chest pain or shortness of breath, which are relatively late-stage markers.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, then an electrocardiogram (ECG) or an exercise stress test may be used to investigate. However, these tests have limited value in isolation and if normal may give false reassurance4. Instead, combining traditional tests with contemporary methods like clinical algorithms to assess risk in asymptomatic individuals offers a more preventative approach. These algorithms, such as those built within Trium – Nuffield Health’s Clinical Brain – are extremely sophisticated and consider health parameters, family history, medical history and lifestyle habits to assess future risk.
5 lifestyle habits that are linked to heart disease
Like most diseases, prevention is better than cure, and the main risk factors do not develop overnight. They are often the consequence of decades of poor lifestyle habits, and it’s the usual suspects:
1) Physical inactivity – achieving the recommended exercise levels of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week can cut heart disease risk by up to 40%5, yet 27% of adults do less than 30 minutes weekly and are classed as inactive5.
2) Smoking – smoking has been attributed to approximately 20,000 heart and circulatory disease deaths each year in the UK1. Pleasingly, the number of smokers in the UK has steadily declined over the past 25 years. However, despite the health warnings, 1 in 6 (17%) still smoke5.
3) Alcohol – Regularly exceeding the recommended alcohol limit can increase blood pressure and weight, whilst weakening the heart. 30% of men, and 14% of women drink more than the recommended limit of 14 units per week on a regular basis, and excessive drinking generally increases as we age5.
4) Diet – Not eating enough fruit and vegetables, consuming excessive salt, and having too many of the wrong type of fats may contribute to increased heart disease risk. Worryingly, just 28% of adults eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day5.
5) Emotional wellbeing – Stress and mental health conditions can increase your risk of developing heart and disorders through a number of mechanisms. This has been a challenging year for many, and at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK 50% of people reported high anxiety6.
Whilst the importance of these lifestyle habits is unlikely to be a complete surprise to most of us, why do so few adhere to the guidelines? Knowing your risk is important for informed decision-making, but behaviour change takes support and guidance. Our experienced doctors can discuss your current risk with you and our expert team of Health and Wellbeing Physiologists are trained in evidence-based behaviour change techniques to support you in making informed decisions about your lifestyle to maximise your future health and wellbeing.
If you would like to keep track of your heart health at home, we have a range of health monitors and devices available on our shop to help you monitor your heart rate and blood pressure.
- Nuffield Health data 2019
Last updated Friday 28 April 2023
First published on Thursday 24 September 2020