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Heart Health Tip >
Spend 10 minutes with your mom, father, aunt or uncle on both sides of the family discussing your history of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Although you can’t change your genes, knowing your family’s health history will help you and your doctor tailor an appropriate prevention plan for you.

A Healthy Heart for Life

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. The main uncontrollable risk factors are age, gender, and a family history of heart disease, especially at an early age. The risk of heart disease rises as people age, and men tend to develop it earlier. Specifically, men ages 45 and older are at increased risk of heart disease, while women 55 and older are at increased risk. A woman's natural hormones give some level of protection from heart disease before menopause, but after menopause women develop heart disease as often as men. In fact, women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack.

Taking Charge of Your Health

Even if you have uncontrollable risk factors for heart disease, it doesn't mean that you can't take steps to limit your risk. Researchers say that controllable risk factors--physical inactivity, smoking, overweight or obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes--are all major influences on the development and severity of heart disease.

Because of advances in medicine and technology, people with heart disease are living longer, more productive lives than ever before. But prevention is still the best weapon in the fight against heart disease. As with anything in life, there are no guarantees. You could do all the right things and still develop heart disease because there are so many factors involved. But by living a healthier life, you could delay heart disease for years or minimize its damage. Whether you are already healthy, are at high risk for heart disease, or have survived a heart attack, the advice to protect your heart is the same.

  • Get moving and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise improves heart function, lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol, and boosts energy. And being overweight forces the heart to work harder. But about 1 in 4 U.S. adults are sedentary.
  • Stick to a nutritious, well-balanced diet. A heart-healthy diet means a diet that's low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and fiber. Experts point out that this type of diet should be de rigeur. That way, when you have high-fat food every now and then, you're still on track. Making a high-fat diet the routine is asking for trouble.
  • Control your blood pressure. About 50 million American adults have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. High blood pressure makes the heart work extra hard and hardens artery walls, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Poor eating habits and physical inactivity both contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Control blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood. High levels of triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood, can also indicate heart disease risk. As with blood pressure, eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and engaging in physical activity can lower cholesterol levels. Your body turns saturated fats into cholesterol, and the higher your cholesterol level, the more likely it is that the substance will build up and stick to artery walls.
  • Prevent and manage diabetes. About 17 million people in the United States have diabetes, and heart disease is the leading cause of death of those with the disease. One in three people who have diabetes don't even know they have it. Genetics and lifestyle factors such as obesity and physical inactivity can lead to diabetes.
  • Quit smoking. Ditch the cigarettes and you'll dramatically lower your heart attack risk. And if you don't smoke, don't start. Along with raising your risk of lung cancer and other diseases, the mixture of tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke increases the risk that your arteries will harden, which restricts blood flow to the heart. Smokers have more than twice the risk of having a heart attack as non-smokers.
  • Minimize stress. The link between stress and heart disease isn't completely clear, but what's known for sure is that stress speeds up the heart rate. And people with heart disease are more likely to have a heart attack during times of stress.

Heart-Smart Substitutions

Instead of ... Try this:
Whole or 2 percent milk and cream Use soy or rice milks, or skim milk
Fried foods Eat baked, steamed, boiled, broiled, or microwaved foods
Lard, butter, palm and coconut oils Cook with unsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, olive, canola, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, or peanut
One whole egg in recipes Use two egg whites or egg-replacer
Sauces, butter, and salt Season vegetables with herbs, spices and cracked pepper
Salted potato chips Choose low-fat, unsalted tortilla and potato chips and unsalted pretzels and popcorn
High sodium canned soups Prepare your own following any number of simple but delicious recipes (for Fall, try a Butternut Squash, Garlic & Green Apple soup)
Fatty cuts of meat Choose non-animal sources of protein such as lentils, chickpeas, tofu and tempeh



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