These unhealthy lifestyle choices are behind 90% of heart disease & stroke risk

Smoking, drinking and an unhealthy lifestyle accounts for an enormous 90% of heart disease and stroke risk

Heart disease risk factors: smoking and drinking
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's common knowledge that heart disease and strokes is often, but not always, caused by lifestyle choices. One too many burgers, or too much alcohol, or a smoking habit, will certainly damage your health. However, we really didn't have the scope of how much this was the case until a new study arrived last week from the European Society of Cardiology.

The researchers found "As much as 90% of the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or peripheral arterial disease can be explained by smoking, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, raised blood lipid levels, diabetes, psychosocial factors, or alcohol". 

Ninety per cent of heart disease, stroke and arterial disease is based on lifestyle choices. That's the sort of knowledge that makes us want to hit the gym a little more. 

The study, using the WHO guidelines, recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. Moderate intensity could include cycling or running, either outside or on one of our best treadmill entries. Vigorous exercise, on the other hand, could mean burpees, battling ropes or other HIIT favourites that make our best exercises for weight loss list.  Losing weight can ease blood pressure and place less strain on the heart, reducing your chances of arterial blockages or cardiovascular risk. 

Heart disease risk factors: smoking and drinking

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, is recommended for the reduction of heart disease. The Met diet comprises lots of fish, whole grains and olive oils, and is consistently correlated with improved cardiovascular health according to studies published in Circulation Research.

The paper found the available evidence "is large, strong, and consistent. Better conformity with the traditional Med diet is associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes, including clinically meaningful reductions in rates of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total cardiovascular disease." As well as olive oil and oily fish, our best fish oil supplements list is a good place to get your heart-protecting fatty acids.

Regularly drinking too much alcohol also raises your blood pressure and stroke risk over time in addition to placing strains on your liver. As a diuretic, alcohol can dehydrate you, damaging your kidneys and skin over time. Alcoholic drinks, especially beer and wine, can also contain a lot of calories, and encourage you to take the "easy" option with cheap, unhealthy foods. No-one goes looking for a salad when they're hungover.

However, as much as learning to eat healthy is good, if you're a smoker, there's one simple thing you need to do to slash your cardio risk. Stopping smoking is "potentially the most effective of all preventive measures" according to the European Society of Cardiology, with substantial reductions in heart attacks or death. Quitting is the single biggest thing you can do for your heart and lung health.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.