Lifestyle Factors

Obesity and Physical Inactivity

Being obese is a problem for your heart. Obesity is defined as being more than 20 per cent above the ideal weight for your height, or having a body mass index of 30 or higher. As the obesity epidemic continues, the rates of diabetes and hypertension are increasing. So, too, is the rate of death due to heart disease among young women between 35 and 54 years old.

Where you carry extra weight matters, too, particularly in women. Excess fat around your waist, rather than your hips, is linked to many of the conditions associated with heart disease – diabetes, high blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol.

Losing weight can have a significant impact on reducing cardiovascular disease and the conditions that contribute to it. Even a small reduction will make a big difference. Losing just a few kilograms can lead to a significant drop in blood pressure, relieving strain on your cardiovascular system.


Smoking causes about 10 per cent of cardiovascular disease overall, and it’s especially dangerous for women. Being a smoker puts younger women at 60 per cent higher risk for heart disease than men of the same age, effectively cancelling out the protection most young women seem to have from heart disease.

Smoking damages the heart, contributes to high blood pressure and leads to the buildup of fatty substances that can narrow and block arteries, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. When an artery becomes completely blocked, the result is usually a heart attack. In a long-term study of 12,000 women, even smoking just one to four cigarettes a day doubled the risk of dying from a heart attack significantly. Ask your doctor to connect you with resources to help you quit smoking for good.

Social, Economic and Psychological Factors

Stress and depression are strongly linked to the development of heart disease. Job and relationship stress can affect your health, making it harder to eat well, exercise and follow medical advice to prevent heart disease. Women who feel the strain of working in high-pressure jobs have, overall, a 40 per cent higher risk of heart disease. Research has found a stronger link between depression and anxiety disorders and heart disease in women than in men.

How much we earn and how well we live also are closely linked to overall health. Women are more likely to have lower socio-economic status than men, and women with lower socio-economic backgrounds and lower levels of education also have higher rates of heart disease than educated women in higher income brackets.