Before you can attempt to lower your risk, you need to know what it is. People with multiple risk factors, such as having high blood pressure or diabetes, being a smoker, being sedentary, or having high LDL cholesterol, are among those with the highest risk for a heart attack.
With a goal of lowering your future risk of a heart attack, you need a clear answer to the question: What level of risk am I at right now? And how does lowering my cholesterol or changing other risk factors help reduce that overall risk?
Calculating your risk of a heart attack can be easily done with a cardiac risk calculator. The risk calculator from the National Cholesterol Education Program is a good place to start.
You'll need to know your total cholesterol level, your HDL or "good" cholesterol, and your systolic blood pressure number (the first number in the reading, for example the "140" in 140/90). With that, the tool will calculate your overall 10-year risk of heart attack.
The tool can also help determine how much your risk would change if you altered your cholesterol levels, reduced your systolic blood pressure or quit smoking. You might be surprised by how much quitting smoking alters your risk vs. something like altering your cholesterol levels. Some things you can't change, such as your family history, gender, or age, but reducing cardiovascular risk is about making lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes—they matter. It makes sense for women to be mindful of their heart health. If you are a woman who doesn't have any risk factors for heart disease, but you've learned that you have elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, there are several lifestyle changes that you can follow to help your health.
Stay active. Regular aerobic exercise protects against major cardiac risk factors. It can raise HDL levels and might help lower LDL cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, help control body weight, ease stress, and might reduce arterial inflammation. Strength training also improves heart-health, too, since building muscle also boosts your fat-burning capacity.
Eat a "heart healthy" diet. Consuming the right foods can protect your heart in several ways, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure levels, limiting inflammation of the arteries, warding off type 2 diabetes, and of course, helping you lose weight. See here for more detailed tips.
Lose excess weight if you need to, since doing so can also help to reduce LDL and blood pressure levels and keep type 2 diabetes at bay. Limiting portions, consuming fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and even eating at home have all been shown to improve weight loss results.
Moderate alcohol consumption (up to one drink a day for women and two for men) can raise HDL cholesterol and possibly reduce inflammation. But even a little too much alcohol undermines the heart.
Keep stress in check. Negative emotions such as stress or anger trigger the release of hormones that can threaten your heart. And people who experience those emotions have more heart attacks than calmer, more cheerful types, research suggests.
Don't obsess about your numbers. But take your health seriously.