HEART Coalition Resources

What Is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) begins when the lining of a blood vessel becomes damaged or irritated. Cholesterol in the blood then starts to build up on the damaged blood vessel wall, which causes thickening and hardening of the blood vessel.  When it happens in the arteries surrounding the heart, a heart attack can occur. When it happens in the arteries going to the brain, a stroke can occur.

Who Is At Risk?

Risk factors are conditions that increase our risk of developing heart disease and stroke. These risk factors can contribute to the development of CVD:

  • Smoking
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight
  • High Levels of Stress
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Family History of Heart Attack or Stroke

What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk Of CVD?

  1. If you are a smoker, QUIT. Also, reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking is the number one risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. Smokers have more than twice the risk of heart attack as nonsmokers.
  3. Keep blood pressure in the ideal range. High blood pressure is the number two risk factor for CVD. Resting blood pressure should not be higher than 130/80, regardless of your age. Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  5. Keep total cholesterol under 200. Elevated cholesterol is the third leading cause of CVD. Cholesterol is a fat or lipid that is produced by your body and is found in some foods. Target goals for the general population are a total cholesterol of under 200mg/dl., LDL cholesterol of under 130mg/dl and HDL cholesterol of 35mg/dl or higher. A diet low in fat, low in cholesterol, and high in fiber is recommended.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
    Risk FactorTarget Goals
    0 to 1 Risk FactorTotal Cholesterol under 200 mg/dl
                    LDL Cholesterol under 160 mg/dl
                    HDL Cholesterol 40 mg/dl or higher
    2 or More Risk FactorsTotal Cholesterol under 200 mg/dl
                    LDL Cholesterol under 130 mg/dl
                    HDL Cholesterol 40 mg/dl or higher
    If you have heart disease, diabetes, history of cardio artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, or abdominal aortic aneurysmTotal Cholesterol under 200 mg/dl
                    LDL Cholesterol under 100 mg/dl
                    HDL Cholesterol 40 mg/dl or higher
                    A diet low in fat, especially saturated fat, low in cholesterol and high in fiber is recommended.
  6. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can improve your cholesterol panel and promotes weight loss. Try to exercise daily for up to 60 minutes. Make sure your pace of activity is slow enough to breath and talk easily.
  7. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugars and A1C blood test in the desired range. People with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop heart disease than people who do not have diabetes.

    Time of DayBlood Glucose Levels
    Before Meals110
    2 Hours After Meals140
    According to the American Association of Endocrinologist Guidelines A1c blood test levels should be 6.5 or less. Talk to your physician about being screened for diabetes.
  8. Lower your stress level. Identify the stressors in your life, and seek help as needed to control them as best you can. Physical activity can also reduce stress.
  9. Know your family history. If cardiovascular disease runs in your family it is in your best interest to reduce all other risk factors as much as possible… for example, exercise and don’t smoke.
  10. Maintain ideal body weight. Being overweight increases your risk of CVD. Lower your body weight slowly and sensibly by following a healthy eating pattern and exercise regularly.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

These guidelines are intended for children and adults from ages 2 and older. By following these guidelines a positive impact on the risk factors listed above can occur.

Aim for Fitness

  • Consume a healthy eating pattern
  • Be physically active each day

Healthy eating and daily physical activity enable people of all ages to work productively, enjoy life, and feel their best. They also help children grow, develop, and do well in school.

Build a Healthy Base

  • Use MyPlate to guide your food choices
  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables
  • At least half of your grains should be whole grains
  • Choose 1% or fat-free milk and dairy products
  • Exercise for 30 minutes each day

Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans can help you maintain a healthy eating pattern, which can reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases like CVD, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. MyPlate is a useful guide to help you get the nutrients your body needs in every meal. Eating a wide variety of fresh produce, whole grains, and 1% or non-fat dairy can help your body receive the nutrients, vitamins, fiber, and minerals it needs for good heart health. In addition to nutrition, physical activity is a protective factor that reduces risk of CVD. Be sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day to maintain health. Have fun and choose your favorite physical activity so you can get your heart pumping.

Choose Sensibly

  • Eat a wide variety of vegetables and whole fruits
  • Read nutrition facts labels
  • Consume processed foods on occasion or rarely
  • Cook with oils low in saturated fat
  • Choose water and other unsweetened beverages
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation - up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men

In addition to MyPlate, you can make healthier choices by following these key recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 - 2020. Limit your consumption of saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and salt (sodium). Read labels to identify foods that are lower in saturated fats, sugars, and sodium. Look for foods high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Processed foods typically contain a higher amount of fat, sugar, and sodium, so consume these foods only sometimes or rarely. 

Together, these guidelines will help you build healthy habits to help decrease your risk of developing CVD.