The Risk Factors of Heart Disease

Since February is American Heart Month, I wanted to take an opportunity to share the 8 known “risk factors” for Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).  These risk factors are basically aspects of health that increase a person’s chance of developing the disease.  The good news is that of the 8 risk factors, 6 of them are modifiable (meaning that you have control over them).  The really good news is that of the 6 modifiable risk factors, 5 are positively affected by exercise!


  • Age

    • Men = 45 years old; Women = 55 years old

  • Family History

    • If CAD runs in your family


  • Cigarette Smoking (the only modifiable risk factor not affected by exercise)

    • Current smoker, or

    • Someone who has quit within the last 6 months, or

    • Someone exposed to secondhand smoke

  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

    • Definition:

      • Blood pressure = 140/90, or

      • Taking a medicine for high blood pressure

    • Effect of Exercise:

      • Consistently doing moderate intensity aerobic exercise has the potential to decrease blood pressure by about 10 points.  In addition to impacting overall blood pressure, your blood pressure is lower immediately following an exercise bout compared to where it was when you started!

  • Dyslipidemia (High Cholesterol)

    • Definition:

      • Total Cholesterol >200, or

      • LDL (bad cholesterol) = 130, or

      • HDL (good cholesterol) = 40 in men; = 50 in women, or

      • Triglycerides > 150

    • Effect of Exercise:

      • A consistent aerobic training program can lead to better cholesterol numbers.

        • Exercise can DECREASE LDL (“bad” cholesterol)

        • Exercise can INCREASE HDL (“good” cholesterol)

        • Exercise can DECREASE Triglycerides

  • Diabetes or Prediabetes

    • Definition:

      • Someone diagnosed with Diabetes, or

      • Someone with elevated blood sugars

    • Effect of Exercise:

      • Exercise helps regulate blood sugars, and can even help prevent people with prediabetes from developing Diabetes.

  • Obesity

    • Definition :

      • Waist Circumference > 40 inches in men; > 35 inches in women, or

      • Body Mass Index (BMI) = 30

        • To calculate your BMI, use this formula:  [weight (lbs) ÷ height² (in)] x 703

    • Effect of Exercise:

      • Exercise has a positive impact on weight loss.  See this post for help determining an exercise plan that will help you lose weight!

  • Sedentary Lifestyle  (Not only does exercise positively affect the above risk factors, not exercisingis a risk factor all by itself!)

    • Definition:

      • Not obtaining the current recommendations for physical activity.

    • Effect of Exercise:

      • The risk of developing CAD is lower when obtaining the recommended amount of physical activity.  See this post for help determining how much you need for health benefits!

Although not officially classified as risk factors, the following factors have also been shown to increase risk of CAD.  Once again, 2 of the 3 are positively impacted by exercise!

  • Alcohol(above recommended limits)

    • No more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

      • One drink is defined as 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits, 1 fl oz of 100-proof spirits, 4 fl oz of wine or 12 fl oz of beer.

  • Stress

    • Exercise is a great way to decrease stress!  An exercise session can serve as a distraction because your mind is focused on exercise rather than all of the thoughts and frustrations of the day!  Additionally, exercise increases endorphins which can help you have a better outlook and focus overall.

  • Depression

    • Exercise promotes psychological well-being and decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Although exercise impacts risk of CAD as mentioned above, it is important to realize that the impact is even greater when combined with other healthy lifestyle changes, such as a heart healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking prescribed medications as indicated.

In honor of American Heart Month, make a commitment to your heart health and start reducing your risk through exercise.  See this post for tips on starting a routine and sticking with it!


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