Risk Factors

Risk factors that can affect physical activity and health


Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. A smoker's risk of heart attack is two to four times the risk of a nonsmoker. Smokers who have a heart attack also are more likely to die and to die suddenly (within an hour). Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease. Exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of heart disease, even for nonsmokers. Ohio does have a smoke free law, which makes all indoor public places smoke free.

High Blood Cholesterol

As blood cholesterol rises, so does the risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity, and diet.

Obesity and Overweight

People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart's work. It raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride (tri-GLIS'er-ide) levels. It also lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. It can also make diabetes more likely to develop. By losing even as few as 10 to 20 pounds, we can lower the risk of heart disease.

Unhealthy Eating

As part of an effort to maintain a healthy weight, good nutrition is an important component. It can also be one of the best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grain and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products is the key. And to maintain a healthy weight, coordinate your diet with your physical activity level so you're using up as many calories as you take in. Check out this infographic about sodium intake from the Million Hearts Initiative.