There are many lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease and having a heart attack. When assessing your risk, it is important to understand that there are factors you can control, and others you can’t.

Factors You Cannot Control

Age

The older you are, the higher your risk for coronary artery disease and heart attack. Approximately 82 percent of people who die from coronary artery disease are 65 or older.

Gender

Men have an increased risk of heart disease compared to women, though it is the number one killer in the U.S. for both men and women.

Family History

Your risk for heart disease is greater if your father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or if your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65.

Race/Ethnicity

African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians and native Hawaiians have a higher risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Factors You Can Control

Smoking

Smoking is the most common cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and it significantly raises your risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as nonsmokers.   

Cholesterol

High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack. While cholesterol levels are impacted by heredity, gender, and age, you can take steps to improve your cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, or medication.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) means the heart must work harder to push blood through the vessels. This extra strain puts you at an increased risk for a heart attack, as well as heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. Certain medications and healthy lifestyle habits can help lower your blood pressure—including exercise, nutrition, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Overweight or Obese

It’s a simple notion; the more you weigh, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood through the body. Research has shown that being overweight or obese significantly raises your risk for heart disease and heart attack. In addition, excess weight contributes to other heart attack risk factors, including cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Diabetes

Diabetes increases the risk of coronary artery disease, even when blood sugar levels are under control. According to the American Heart Association, 65 percent of people with diabetes die of heart or blood vessel diseases.

Other Contributing Risk Factors

Alcohol use, stress and poor nutrition are other risk factors that have shown to increase your risk of heart disease, though not as significantly as the major risk factors identified above.