The American Heart Association has identified Six Key Risk Factors people can treat or modify to reduce their risk of a heart attack. Addressing these risk factors can have immediate benefits to your overall health and well-being.

Tobacco Smoke
Smokers’ risk of heart attack is more than twice that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Smokers have two-to-four times the risk compared to nonsmokers. Smokers who have a heart attack also are more likely to die, and die suddenly (within an hour.) Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease. People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke,) but their risk isn’t as great as cigarette smokers’. Constant exposure to secondary smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.

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.

High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to enlarge and weaken. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.

Physical Inactivity
An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the activity, the greater your benefits. However, even moderate-intensity activities help if done regularly and long-term. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in certain people.

Obesity and Excess Body Weight
People who have excess body fat (especially if a lot of it’s in the waist,) are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the strain on the heart. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. It can also make diabetes more likely to develop. Many obese and overweight people may have difficulty losing weight. But by losing 10 to 20 pounds, you can help lower your heart disease risk.

Diabetes Mellitus 
Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. About two-thirds of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it’s extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control any other risk factors you may have.