follow these 9 steps to dramatically lower heart disease risk

I never thought I would lead the lifestyle I do; I remember being at University mocking my housemate for eating a vegetarian diet and now how times have changed. Like so many others, I use to follow the 'everything in moderation' rule. Eat a moderately healthy diet, do a moderate amount of exercise, etc. But in a world where the leading killer (cardiovascular disease (1)) is largely down to lifestyle choices, moderation kills.

Now I follow the overwhelming consensus of evidence, eating a mainly whole food plant-based diet, getting at least 150 minutes of exercise a week and actively optimising all my modifiable risk factors. If the science changes, so will I. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite foods were chicken wings, BBQ ribs and big juicy burgers, but none of that matters to me now. These short term indulgences pale in comparison to the chance of living a long, healthy life, a life where I potentially get to be a big part of my children’s lives and even meet my grandchildren. Something my Dad didn’t get to do, but a life I want for anyone reading this.

Why the sudden change in my lifestyle I hear you ask? As you might have guessed, it was due to the passing of my slim, moderately active and healthy Dad. At the age of 54 he suddenly died from cardiovascular disease (CVD), specifically heart disease which accounts for over half of the CVD deaths (2). Seeing first hand how destructive and how immediately this disease can take life away, I was determined to find out how to prevent this happening to me. A selfish motivation, but by sharing what I’ve found I am aiming to give hope to those around me in similar situations. Since then I have studied a masters degree in public health, changing how I live in accordance with the consensus of quality research that I have learnt over the last few years.

By supporting one another and changing our lifestyle for the better we can dramatically reduce the destructiveness of the worlds biggest killer of men and women. The age my Dad died statistically goes down as a premature death from heart disease. Don’t become a statistic like my Dad, take back control, and be responsible for your own health whilst living to see your Grandchildren.

So if moderation kills then what can we do, well last week we found out that 4 lifestyle factors reduce heart attack risk by 80% (3). We can go one step further. Research from the INTERHEART trial (4) looked into 9 factors and found the risk reduction can be stepped up a level to 90% for men and 94% for women. So on top of the four factors from last week:

  1. Never smoking

  2. Having a body mass index lower than 30

  3. 30mins a day of physical activity

  4. Following healthy dietary principles (high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain bread and low meat consumption).’

To gain that extra 10-14% this study added in the following elements:

  1. Healthy lipids (cholesterol)

  2. Optimal blood pressure

  3. Managing or preventing diabetes

  4. Psychosocial factors

  5. Alcohol in small amounts

According to the savvy scientists conducting this study, this research has ‘the potential to prevent most premature cases of myocardial infarction’ which is science talk for heart attack (4).

Focusing on one of these points to tackle - blood pressure, lowering sodium (salt) intake directly lowers blood pressure (5). 70% of sodium comes already packaged in food, not from the salt shaker, so you could track your eating habits using a popular app to find out where the salt is coming from. Or avoid known foods with high sodium, which as a rule of thumb is found in processed foods including processed meats, sauces and cheeses to name but a few.

How much salt is in your go-to sauce and is there one you like just as much that might help you take back control of your health by being lower in salt? Or maybe there is something you like more than your normal cheese that has less salt and has your long term health interests at heart, rather than being a fleeting indulgence.

So we could smoke a little, be moderately obese, eat a moderate amount of fruits and veggies, but when we’re talking about life and death there’s no point in being half-arsed. If there’s one thing in life worth doing properly it’s looking after your health.

Any positive change you make, no matter how small, is progress. Progress is the road to taking back control of your health.

In no way is this information meant to replace the advice given by your doctor, always follow the advice of your health professional. Inform your doctor if you are making any large changes to your lifestyle.

As always, don't just take our word for it, have a read through some of the evidence we use which is all referenced below.


  1. United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: 2019 Revision. Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL [accessed 21.06.2020].

  2. World Health Organization, 2018, http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death

  3. Ford ES, Bergmann MM, Kröger J, Schienkiewitz A, Weikert C, Boeing H. Healthy living is the best revenge: findings from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam study. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(15):1355-1362. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.237

  4. Yusuf, S., Hawken, S., Ôunpuu, S., Dans, T., Avezum, A., Lanas, F., McQueen, M., Budaj, A., Pais, P., Varigos, J. and Lisheng, L., 2004. Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study. The lancet, 364(9438), pp.937-952.

  5. Sacks, F.M., Svetkey, L.P., Vollmer, W.M., Appel, L.J., Bray, G.A., Harsha, D., Obarzanek, E., Conlin, P.R., Miller, E.R., Simons-Morton, D.G. and Karanja, N., 2001. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. New England journal of medicine, 344(1), pp.3-10.