How to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk

Whether you want to prevent vascular disease or have already received a diagnosis, there are many things you can do to take control and reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening event.

Lifestyle factors – our daily habits – play a huge role in developing cardiovascular disease. That means that making small changes to the things we do each day can help us prevent cardiovascular disease (or reduce its impact).

Here are some things that you can do today:

  • Stop smoking: It's the worst thing you can do to your cardiovascular system. The benefits to your heart start right away – as soon as you stop smoking, your heart disease risk starts going down.
  • Exercise: Start small, and aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week. A brisk walk would be a great way to start.
  • Give your diet a makeover: The DASH diet is a good place to start. DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is designed to promote heart health as well.
  • Lose excess weight, especially around the middle: If you're overweight or obese, getting to a healthy weight lowers your cardiovascular disease risk significantly. Losing even 5 percent of your excess body weight can boost heart health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's just 10 pounds for a 200-pound person.
  • Know your numbers: Your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels are key indicators that you need to know. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all connected to cardiovascular disease. To reduce these risk factors, the first step is knowing where you stand.

Preventing Blood Clots

Blood clots in the veins block blood from flowing back to the heart. While some clots will dissolve on their own, others can cause damage throughout the body and can be life threatening.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing blood clots, even if you have already been diagnosed with vascular disease.

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes – Anything that constricts blood flow can make it easier for a clot to form.
  • Move around – Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time. Get up and move around once an hour in order to keep circulation flowing.
  • Wear compression stockings if your doctor recommends them – these tight stockings make it easier for blood to flow from the legs up to the heart.
  • Exercise – Moderate activity, like taking a brisk walk, has been shown to improve some types of vascular disease. In addition to its many other health benefits, exercise encourages the blood to circulate.

Patients are at higher risk of developing blood clots after they have had surgery. If you're having surgery, ask your doctor what can be done to reduce your chances of developing a blood clot.

The Role of Exercise in Vascular Health

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for the health of your heart and blood vessels. Exercise reduces cardiovascular disease risk factors. Obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are all connected with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Exercise helps control all three.

  • Exercise can reduce the fatty deposits (plaque) in your arteries over time, reducing your risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD) as well as heart disease (coronary artery disease).
  • Exercise raises the level of "good" (HDL) cholesterol in the blood and lowers the level of "bad" (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Exercise helps control body weight and can be part of a weight-loss program.
  • Exercise lowers blood pressure.
  • Exercise tones and strengthens muscles, which can help improve circulation in the legs. And don't forget that the heart is a muscle, too – it gets stronger with exercise.
  • Exercise can help keep blood sugar levels (blood glucose) under good control.