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Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and other circulatory diseases.

If you already have heart disease, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing further heart-related problems. Keeping your heart healthy will also have other health benefits, and help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia. Below are a list of tips and advice on how to reduce the risk of  developing cardiovascular disease:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) increases your chances of developing heart disease. Unfortunately there are usually no symptoms of high blood pressure and many people remain unaware that they have it.
    If you are middle-aged or older and have normal blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked every five years. If you have high blood pressure, you should have it checked more frequently. Your GP will be able to advise you on how often it should be measured.
  • Diabetes is a common life-long health condition. In Ireland it is estimated that there are 200,000 people with diabetes with many more unaware that they have the condition.
    Diabetes Mellitus, or just diabetes as it is more commonly known, occurs when the sugar (glucose) level in the blood is too high. This is because the pancreas is not producing any or enough insulin, or the insulin produced is not working properly.
    Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows sugar (glucose) to enter the body’s cells, where it is used as a fuel for energy. It is a vital part of living your life.
    Having diabetes can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke and poor circulation.
    Adults with diabetes are 2-4 four times more likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than people without diabetes. People with Type 2 diabetes also have high rates of high blood pressure, lipid problems and obesity which can contribute to the high rates of cardiovascular disease.
    Ways to reduce your risk of Cardiovascular disease:
    • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
    • Increase physical activity. Aim for 30-60mins physical activity most days of the week.
    • Stop smoking
    • Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
    • Take medications as directed by your doctor.
    • Keep your blood glucose levels well controlled. Discuss this with your doctor or diabetes nurse.
    • Try to keep your blood pressure well controlled.
    • Keep good control of your cholesterol or blood lipids. Discuss this with your doctor.
    • If blood sugar (glucose) levels are kept within normal range the risks of developing cardiovascular disease are reduced.
    Remember to have your diabetes control reviewed regularly by your GP or diabetes team, even if you feel well.
    Regular follow-up can avoid damage to the body caused by poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Stop Smoking !
    Giving up smoking not only reduces your risk of developing heart disease, but also reduces the risk of many other serious illnesses, such as cancer and emphysema.
    Whatever your age, it’s never too late to stop smoking. As soon as you do, your health will improve. Five years after giving up, your risk of developing heart disease will fall to a similar level as someone who has never smoked.
    Giving up smoking is not easy and it may take several attempts before you succeed. You may benefit from a course in smoking cessation or using nicotine replacement therapies. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare advisor about the range of options available to help you.
    It should also be noted that exposure to passive smoking (inhaling smoke from nearby smokers) may also increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Many factors contribute to the development of heart disease. You can’t change factors such as family history or age but your lifestyle and diet are areas where change is possible.
    By adopting a healthy eating pattern, combined with regular moderate physical activity you can help improve the health of your heart.
    One of the cornerstones of healthy eating is cutting down on the amount of fat in your diet. A high fat diet is usually associated with obesity and raised blood cholesterol levels, which are both risk factors for heart disease.
    There are 3 main types of fat found in food:
    • Saturated fat- mainly found in foods of animal origin. This type of fat raises blood cholesterol levels.
    • Polyunsaturated fat: Mainly found in foods of plant/vegetable origin e.g. corn oil, sunflower oil. These can help lower your cholesterol level as part of a balanced diet.
    • Monounsaturated fat: Mainly found in olive oil, rapeseed oil and spreads made from these. Can also help to lower cholesterol level.


    Ways to reduce saturated fat:

    • Oven-bake, grill, poach, stir-fry or dry-fry food with a low-fat spray instead of frying.
    • If you are using oil, measure out the oil with a spoon, rather than pouring the oil. Use no more than 1-2 tablespoons for a family.
    • Buy the leanest cuts of meat and remove all fat before cooking.
    • Use low fat dairy products.
    • Reduce intake of confectionary foods, i.e. cakes, biscuits and pastries.


    Fruit and  Vegetables
    Fruit and vegetables contain high levels of antioxidant vitamins which can help protect against heart disease.
    Aim for at least 5 portions per day:
    A portion is:
    • 1 medium size portion of fresh fruit.
    • 3-4 dessertspoons of cooked vegetables or salad.
    • 1 small glass of fruit juice.
    • 1 bowl of homemade vegetable soup.
    • 3 dessertspoons of cooked/tinned fruit


    Oily Fish
    Oily fish are salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, sardines, kippers and fresh tuna and pilchards. These fish contain oils called “omega 3 fatty acids” which help prevent bloods clots and protect you from heart disease. Aim for two servings a week.
    High salt intake is linked to high blood pressure. It is advisable for everyone to reduce their salt intake.
    Ways of reducing your salt intake:
    • Limit salt use in cooking and at the table
    • Choose fresh foods instead of processed foods and ready prepared meals
    • Eat fewer salty foods such as crisps, roasted nuts, processed meats and cheese
    • Low salt substitutes are not recommended


    High intakes of alcohol can be associated with high blood pressure, raised triglyceride levels, obesity and other health problems. If you drink alcohol, spread your intake over the week and have alcohol free days. Do not drink more than the recommended levels.
    21 standard drinks (men)
    14 standard drinks (women)
    A standard drink is the equivalent to:
    = ½ pint beer/lager/cider
    = 1 small glass (125mls) of wine
    = 1 pub measure of a spirit
    Obesity is associated with a large number of other health problems, so achieving a healthy weight is important for maintenance of good health. Being overweight is a risk factor for the development of heart disease.
  • Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart. 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on five or more days of the week, can halve your chance of developing heart disease.
    If you have a busy schedule, break up the recommended 30 minutes into several shorter sessions – it’s the total time per day that you exercise that counts.
    In addition to its effect on your heart and circulation, exercise can also:
    • help you improve your balance of ‘good cholesterol’ (high-density lipoprotein HDL) and ‘bad cholesterol’ (low-density lipoprotein LDL)
    • help you to sleep better
    • provide you with a feeling of well-being
    • strengthen your bones
    What is meant by moderate activity?
    Moderate activity should make you feel warm and slightly out of breath but you can still talk. This type of activity encourages your heart to become stronger, enabling it to pump more blood around your body with less effort.
    What age is it good to start exercising?
    You can benefit from physical activity at any age. You should talk to your GP before starting an exercise programme so as to agree an appropriate plan that is suitable to your health.
    Build up your activity levels gradually. Most of all find an activity which you can do safely and still enjoy! Try to build activity into your daily routine so it does not beome a chore – walking, cycling, dancing, swimming or going to the gym. Your activity doesn’t have to be a sport – try gardening, taking the stairs instead of the lift, walk instead of driving or taking the bus.
    Your Doctor/Nurse will advise you prior to starting out on an exercise programme, what combination might suit you best.
    Remember the key is to build up how often you do the activity (the frequency) before you increase how hard you work during a session (the intensity).