Heart disease prevention for adults under 40


High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and high cholesterol are two factors that increase your risk for developing heart disease or heart failure. Now, new research suggests that having those factors as a young adult increases your risk for heart disease later in life. Emphasizing prevention during the young adult years can keep you healthier longer.

Heart disease prevention decreases the risk of heart failure and heart disease

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examined blood pressure and cholesterol in over 36,000 people. In people under 40 with high blood pressure and cholesterol, researchers found the following results:

  • A 37 percent greater risk for heart failure later in life when the top number of a blood pressure reading (systolic pressure) was above 130
  • A 21 percent increased risk for heart failure later on when the bottom number (diastolic pressure) of the blood pressure reading was over 80
  • A 64 percent higher risk for later-in-life heart disease when the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) was above 100

These were independent of later adult exposures, which might increase risk even further.

Why high cholesterol is dangerous

Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver that the body uses to make hormones, vitamin D and the membranes surrounding cells.

Additional cholesterol in the body comes from the foods you eat. Too much of the bad cholesterol, called LDL, can cause the waxy material to build up in your arteries. The buildup may slow or prevent blood flow, leading to a heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol) helps remove LDL so it doesn’t build up.

The risks of high blood pressure

Systolic pressure measures the pressure of blood in your arteries when your heart is beating. Diastolic pressure measures the pressure of blood in your arteries between beats. An elevated reading is anything above 120 for systolic pressure and above 80 for diastolic pressure.

High blood pressure causes your heart to work harder. In time, the hard work causes the heart muscle to thicken and the heart to increase in size. With these physical changes, the heart becomes less efficient at pumping enough blood to meet the body’s nutrient and oxygen needs. Eventually, heart failure results.

Preventing heart disease and heart failure

You can prevent both hypertension and high cholesterol with these strategies:

Improve your diet

Avoid foods high in saturated fat, which raise your LDL levels. You will find high levels of saturated fats in red meats and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils raise cholesterol levels overall.

Increase your intake of fiber, which can reduce how much cholesterol gets absorbed into the bloodstream. Soluble fiber includes foods like beans, oatmeal and apples. You can also increase fats that don’t raise cholesterol, known as omega-3 fatty acids. You can find omega-3s in fish like salmon, nuts and flaxseeds.


Exercise at least 30 minutes, five times a week to improve cholesterol. Physical activity has been proven to raise HDL levels.

Stop smoking

Your HDL levels will increase once you stop smoking. Blood circulation and lung function improve within just three months of quitting. Within a year, you will reduce your risk for heart disease to half of what it was when you smoked.

Lose excess weight

Being overweight or obese increases LDL levels and decreases HDL levels. Losing just 10 percent of excess weight should improve your cholesterol.

Additional steps for preventing high blood pressure include:

Limiting alcohol consumption

Drinking alcohol in moderation (less than two drinks per day) is generally considered safe. But drinking more than this can raise your blood pressure by several points.

Decreasing your salt intake

Consuming 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily is ideal (one teaspoon of salt has 2,300 milligrams of sodium). Excess sodium in the bloodstream may reduce your kidneys’ ability to remove water. The resulting fluid buildup can increase your blood pressure.

Both prevention and early detection can be lifesaving. UCLA Heart and Vascular Services offer leading-edge heart care when you need it. 

Take the Next Step

For more information on heart disease prevention, visit UCLA Heart and Vascular Services.