There are several risk factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease or the risk that heart disease will worsen. Some risk factors are things you can change: they are called modifiable risk factors. The ones you can't change are called nonmodifiable risk factors.

Things you can change include:

Smoking: Smoking, including exposure to second-hand smoke, plays a role in the buildup of plaque in the arteries, reduces the oxygen in the blood, increases blood pressure, and increases the risk of heart disease.

Physical inactivity: Low levels of physical activity are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week. If you have heart disease or are starting an exercise program, speak to your doctor first.

Poor nutrition: A high intake of saturated fats coupled with a low intake of fruits and vegetables increases the risk of heart disease.

Being overweight or obese: One study estimated that about 1 in 10 premature deaths among Canadian adults 20 to 64 years of age is directly attributable to being overweight or obese. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk of heart disease.

High blood pressure: High blood pressure - over 140/90 mm Hg for most people or over 130/80 mm Hg for those with diabetes - is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

High cholesterol: If you do not have cholesterol levels at target (especially "bad cholesterol" or LDL), you are at an increased risk for heart disease.

Diabetes: Diabetes, especially if blood sugar is not controlled, increases the risk of heart disease and other blood vessel problems (e.g., high blood pressure, stroke).

Drinking too much alcohol: As with most things in life, moderation is key. Too much alcohol can increase your risk of heart disease. If you drink alcohol, stick to no more than 10 drinks per week if you are female and 15 if you are male.

Stress: Too much stress can also contribute to heart disease.

Things you can't change include:

Age: As we grow older, our risk for heart disease increases.

Gender: Men over 45 years of age and women who are past menopause have a greater risk of heart disease. Until they reach menopause, women have a lower risk of heart disease than men.

Family history: If you have parents, siblings, or children who had heart disease at an early age, you are at increased risk for heart disease.

Ethnic background: If you are of First Nations, African, or South Asian background, you have a higher risk.

To learn about your risk factors for heart disease, use our Heart Disease Risk Calculator tool.