Preventing heart disease 

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.

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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.

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.

Page last reviewed: 26/09/2014

Next review due: 26/09/2016