What is the most important risk factor for coronary heart disease?

It makes sense that the more risk factors present, the worse the risk. But risk factors are thought to be more than just cumulative; when several are present in your life, it is believed that they can actually multiply the risk of heart disease. Research studies are still attempting to quantify the elements of risk. It is very difficult to isolate the value of each risk factor, since people who smoke, for example, often have high blood pressure, too. And people with high blood pressure are often stressed and get little exercise. Fortunately for all of us, protective factors are more than cumulative as well: combine good food choices with exercise and weight control, and their benefits add up to more than the sum of the individual factors.

Trying to rank risk factors can be risky in itself. Doing so can lead to underestimating the importance of any of the single factors. But if we had to choose a couple of risks to put at the top of the list, they would have to be high blood cholesterol level and cigarette smoking. But high blood pressure and lack of exercise are also among the “top four” risk factors.

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