Coronary heart disease - Prevention 

Preventing heart disease 

CHD Laura's story: your weight and heart disease

Being overweight or obese can put extra strain on your heart, making it more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Laura shares her fight against fat and how eating well has transformed her life.

Media last reviewed: 11/11/2013

Next review due: 11/11/2015

The importance of regular exercise

People who do not exercise are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who exercise regularly.

The heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle, benefits from exercise. A strong heart can pump more blood around your body with less effort.

Any aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming and even dancing makes your heart work harder and keeps it healthy.

There are several ways you can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), such as lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

There are a number of ways you can do this, which are discussed below.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains.

You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful.

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

However, a balanced diet should still include unsaturated fats, which have been shown to 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:

Be more physically active

Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way of maintaining a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure.

Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Read more about fitness and exercise.

Keep to a healthy weight

Your GP or practice nurse can tell you what your ideal weight is in relation to your build and height. Alternatively, find out what your body mass index (BMI) is by using a BMI calculator.

Read more about losing weight.

Give up smoking

If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing CHD. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (furring of the arteries). It also causes the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis in people under the age of 50.

Research has shown you are up to four times more likely to successfully give up smoking if you use NHS support together with stop-smoking medicines, such as patches or gum. Ask your doctor about this or visit NHS Smokefree.

Read more about stopping smoking.

Reduce your alcohol consumption

If you drink, stick to the recommended guidelines. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for men is three to four units a day and two to three units for women.

Always avoid binge drinking as this increases the risk of a heart attack.

Read more about drinking and alcohol.

Keep your blood pressure under control

You can keep your blood pressure under control by eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising regularly and, if required, taking the appropriate medication to lower your blood pressure.

Your target blood pressure should be below 140/85mmHg. If you have high blood pressure, ask your GP to check your blood pressure regularly.

Read more about high blood pressure.

Keep your diabetes under control

You have a greater risk of developing CHD if you are diabetic. If you have diabetes, being physically active and controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level.

If you are diabetic, your target blood pressure level should be below 130/80mmHg.

Read more about diabetes.

Take any medication prescribed for you

If you have CHD, you may be prescribed medication to help relieve your symptoms and stop further problems developing.

If you do not have CHD but do have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a history of family heart disease, your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent you developing heart-related problems.

If you are prescribed medication, it is vital you take it and follow the correct dosage. Do not stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor first, as doing so is likely to make your symptoms worse and put your health at risk.

Page last reviewed: 26/09/2014

Next review due: 26/09/2016


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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

macbrownlee said on 10 July 2013

I completely agree with Ukuk_Hai. Sugar seems to be the enemy.

Please, please, please do not let the NHS ego prevent admitting that medical and scientific facts no longer support the advice given above.

As a highly respected organization,and one playing a significant role in advising on patient care, please admit that a change in advice is necessary.

We all, patients and doctors, look to the NHS for guidance. Please continue giving the best and up-to-date advice possible. We are all counting on you.

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Ukuk_Hai said on 01 July 2012

Your advice is wrong. You have not mentioned that sugar and not fat is the main culprit in relation to Heart disease. I have only just joined the "NHS choices" site but I have been so unimpressed with the advice and the fact that my comments are censored, edited or not printed, that I will probably delete my account. This site is not giving latest / best advice on a host of subjects. Shameful, considering my taxes are probably contributing to the maintenance of the site.

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User566817 said on 21 June 2011

I find it discussing that our NHS is giving out such terrible advice for preventing heart attacks.

You mentioned the old saturated fat thing. Which we all know is based on a faulty study (the Ancel Keys 7 countries study.)

There has never been a conclusive study that had proved a solid link between saturated fat and heart disease.

However there are mountains of evidence that sugar does! And you haven't mentioned that people should cut down on sugar intake once.

I would recommend anyone reading this page to do some research on the effects of sugar on VLDL (bad cholesterol.)

Cut out the sugar, not the fat!

BTW I eat more saturated fat than anyone I know, I cook everything in butter and I don't do any spreads or vegetable oils and my triglycerides are perfect!

Not the same can be said about my dad who eats almost no saturated fat and who's tryglycerides are through the roof.

Think about it.

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User492629 said on 31 January 2011

I am very concerned at the number of very young children now being prescribed amphetamine stimulants for the non scientifically proven ADHD. These stimulants can cause a host of dangerous side effects including heart defects and even sudden death. Also the long term damage to the heart is unknown. I urge doctors to ban these stimulants for children and promote a healthy diet in childhood to give kids a good start in life. Not class A drugs which are similar to cocaine. Its an utter disgrace.
Children need patience,they all develope at their own individual rate and a cluster of behavioural patterns do not = a disease or disorder. These children in my opinion are not ill but are typical kids with lots of energy and free will. Please don;t drug the life out of them whilst damaging their health and their hearts

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jimbon said on 23 July 2010

My partner died from his heart he did not smoke ,drank occasionally, ate healthily ,was physically active, had normal blood pressure and was correct weight he had no heart problems in his family He was 51 The official information can sometimes make people complacent if they do not fall into the categories of concern Anyone can die from a heart attack.
Derek, Check out healthfood shops for good books on HDL approaches

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Derek_G said on 06 July 2009

It suugests that your HDL levels are kept high. There seems to be very few suggestions for how to improve your HDL.

The only suggestion seems to be to do exercise which i already do. Are there any other ways to increase your HDL..



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