Preventing cardiovascular disease in adults 

Most risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are linked, which means that if you have one risk factor, you'll probably have others.

For example, people who drink heavily usually have poor diets and are more likely to smoke. Obese people are also more likely to have other health problems, such as diabeteshigh cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension).

Addressing one risk factor, such as giving up smoking, will bring important health benefits, but to significantly reduce your risk of developing CVD, you need to look at your lifestyle as a whole.

In particular, you need to consider:

  • your diet
  • your weight
  • how much alcohol you drink 
  • how much exercise and physical activity you do
  • whether you need to stop smoking

Each of these is discussed below. 

Alcohol

To reduce the risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits. A small glass of wine (125ml) is about 1.5 units.

Read more about alcohol units.

Your GP can give you help and advice if you're finding it difficult to moderate your drinking.

Diet

A low-fat, high-fibre diet (including whole grains and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day) is recommended for a healthy heart.

Your diet should include no more than 6g (0.2 oz or one teaspoon) of salt a day. Too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Limit the amount of salty foods you eat, such as ready meals and canned or tinned food.

Avoid eating foods that are high in saturated fat, as they'll increase your cholesterol level. Foods with a high fat content include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter and ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • foods that contain coconut or palm oil

Eating some foods high in unsaturated fat can help to decrease your cholesterol level. These foods include:

  • oily fish
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • rapeseed oil
  • olive oil

Read more about healthy eating.

Exercise and weight management

If you're overweight or obese, you can lose weight using a combination of regular exercise and a calorie-controlled diet. The recommendation for adults is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every day at least five days a week.

Read more about the physical activity guidelines for adults.

Cycling or brisk walking are both examples of moderate-intensity exercise. You could also include swimming and running as part of your exercise programme. 

Visit your GP for a health check if you haven't exercised before, or if you're returning to exercise after a break.

If you find it difficult to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, start at a level you feel comfortable with. For example, do 5 to 10 minutes of light exercise a day and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness level improves.

Read more about the benefits of exercise and losing weight.

Smoking

If you smoke, it's strongly recommended that you give up as soon as possible. The NHS Smokefree website provides valuable information, support and advice.

Your GP can also provide you with advice and support, and they may prescribe medication to help you quit.

Read more about stopping smoking.

Medication

If you have a particularly high risk of developing CVD, your GP may prescribe medication to reduce your risk.

Medication that's sometimes used to help prevent CVD includes:

  • blood pressure tablets – such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which are used to treat high blood pressure
  • statins – used to lower blood cholesterol levels
  • low-dose aspirin – used to prevent blood clots

Lower your cholesterol

Foods you can eat and those you should avoid to help lower your cholesterol

Page last reviewed: 15/09/2014

Next review due: 15/09/2016