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Epidemiologia e prevenzione delle malattie cerebro e cardiovascolari


Prevention and lifestyle

Prevention and lifestyle

Cardiovascular disease has a multifactor aetiology, resulting from an interaction of several risk factors (age, gender, blood pressure, smoking habit, diabetes, cholesterolemia). Risk factors, if present in a healthy individual, increase the likelihood of disease occurrence. Risk factors have been recognized and the reversibility of risk demonstrated; therefore cardiovascular disease today is preventable: myocardial infarction and stroke can, and indeed must, be prevented.


Cardiovascular risk factors can be divided into modifiable (by changes in lifestyle or by drug treatment) and non-modifiable.


The non-modifiable risk factors are:

  • age: the risk gradually increases with age
  • male gender: men are more at risk compared to women. In women the risk increases substantially after menopause
  • family history: relatives having experienced cardiovascular events at young age (before 55 for men and 65 for women).

The modifiable risk factors are:


Smoking. Nicotine accelerates the heart beat. Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and favours the development of atherosclerosis.


Blood pressure. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder and accelerates the formation of atherosclerosis on arterial walls.


Total cholesterolemia. Cholesterol, a substance normally present in the body, may be found in excess in the blood. The higher the cholesterol level, the greater the risk of its build-up on the walls of the arteries.


HDL-cholesterolemia. HDL-cholesterol is a lipoprotein useful to remove excess cholesterol; the smaller its level, the greater the cardiovascular risk.


Diabetes. Diabetes, unless properly controlled, may favours atherosclerosis, thus increasing the cardiovascular risk.


Each person’s risk to develop a cardiovascular disease depends on the entity of risk factors; the risk is a continuum and increases with age, therefore risk is never zero. However, it is possible to reduce cardiovascular risk or keep it at favourable level by changing or reducing modifiable risk factors through healthy lifestyle.



  • Giving up smoking.
    Smoking is the second most important risk factor after age contributing to  cardiovascular disease risk increase. Cardiovascular risk has been shown to decrease significantly already after few years after quitting smoking. Both active and passive smoking are dangerous.
  • Following a healthy diet.
    A varied diet including regular fish consumption (at least 2 times a week), few animal fats (meat, butter, cheese, whole milk), limited sodium intake (contained in salt) and high consumption of fibres (vegetables, fruit, legumes) contributes to maintain cholesterolemia and blood pressure at a favourable level.
  • Doing physical activity.
    Exercising regularly strengthens the heart and improves blood circulation. Sport or particularly strenuous activities are not required: it is enough to walk for 30 minutes every day and, if possible, take the stairs.
  • Keeping your weight under control.
    Weight is closely linked to a person’s diet and physical activity: the correct weight, indeed, results from a right balance between energy intake through diet and energy expenditure through physical activity.


© Istituto Superiore di Sanita (ISS)