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Other lifestyle factors

Making lifestyle changes can help prevent coronary artery disease progressing.

Measures include:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Improving your eating habits
  • Starting or increasing the amount of exercise you do
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Decreasing your waist circumference
  • Limiting your alcohol consumption.


Smoking significantly increases the risk of atherosclerosis – a condition where plaques form on artery walls and narrow the blood vessels. In the coronary arteries, atherosclerosis can lead to coronary artery disease and in other blood vessels, especially in your limbs, hands and feet, it increases your risk of peripheral vascular disease.

Smoking kills close to 20,000 Australians each year – around 40 percent of these deaths are due to heart and blood vessel disease.

If you already have coronary heart disease – the underlying problem in angina – giving up smoking will decrease your risk of serious symptoms such as heart attack and angina.

If you already have angina or have had a heart attack, giving up smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of recurrences or your condition getting worse.

Diet and nutrition

Coronary artery disease tops the list of conditions in which there’s a clear direct relationship between ill health and what you eat, closely followed by related conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

It’s well established that many Australians eat too much fat, salt and processed foods and have insufficient fruit and vegetables in their diet, putting them at higher risk of ill health. There are strong links between consumption of excess saturated fat with high levels of LDL cholesterol which can lead to atherosclerosis, while eating too much salt – which over half of Australians do – is linked with high blood pressure.

Adjusting your diet to decrease the amount of saturated fat and salt you eat and to increase fibre will all help to keep coronary artery disease at bay as it can lower cholesterol and help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Broadly speaking, a diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, lean meat, low-fat dairy products and certain oils and which is low in saturated and trans fats, salt and highly-processed foods is one of your best tickets to good heart health.

If you already have coronary artery disease, following this kind of diet can improve your chances of managing the condition and reduce your risk of future problems.

Activity and exercise

Becoming more active is another way to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. And if you already have coronary artery disease, simply moving more will decrease your risk of serious symptoms such as heart attack and angina. If you’ve already had a heart attack or have angina, becoming more active is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of your condition worsening.

Being physically active also improves your mental health and bone and muscle strength, and helps reduce other risk factors of coronary artery disease such as being overweight, having high blood pressure and having high blood cholesterol.


For the past 30 years, Australians have been getting progressively heavier, and we now have among the highest levels of overweight and obesity in the world.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of coronary artery disease, other cardiovascular diseases and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

In the most cases, the determinant of your weight is the simple matter of how much energy you consume in the form of food and drink compared to how much you expend in your everyday metabolism, activities and exercise.

If you continuously take in more energy than you expend, the result will be overweight or obesity. If you continuously expend more than you take in, the result will be weight loss. If you can achieve the fine balance between energy in and energy out, you will maintain a stable weight.

Abdominal obesity and waist circumference

It’s now known that where in your body you carry excess weight also makes a difference to your heart disease and diabetes risk.

Carrying weight around your middle (having an ‘apple’ shape) rather than around the hips, thighs and buttocks (a ‘pear’ shape) increases your risk.

If you’re a woman with a waist circumference of:

  • 80cm or more – you are at increased risk
  • 88cm or more – you are at substantially-increased risk and are considered to be abdominally obese

If you’re a man with a waist circumference of:

  • 94cm or more – you are at increased risk
  • 102cm or more – you are at substantially-increased risk and are considered to be abdominally obese

Some ethnic groups such as Asians and Indians are at genetically-increased risks of heart conditions and type 2 diabetes at much lower body mass index values and waist circumferences.

Alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, along with your risk of accidents and injuries and a host of other diseases including various cancers.

According to the alcohol consumption guidelines of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, your health risks begin to increase with one standard drink a day for women and two standard drinks a day for men.

In general the greater your alcohol intake, the greater your increase in health risk.

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2011

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