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Controlling Risk Factors
Even though heart disease is a major health concern today, it is preventable. There are a number of things you can do to take control of your heart health. The best ways to prevent heart disease are to do those things that address the controllable risk factors, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, being sedentary, poor eating habits, stress and diabetes.
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Heart Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is so important for preventing and managing heart problems. Eating well can help address several risk factors, including high cholesterol, hypertension and being overweight. A heart healthy diet includes lots of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. Choose low-fat sources of protein, such as fish and tofu. Cut down on fatty, sugary, salty and processed foods and focus on consuming a variety of fresh, natural foods.
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Regular Physical Activity
A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the development of heart disease and people who do not exercise tend to have problems with weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and even diabetes. Include some type of aerobic activity in your lifestyle, at least five days a week. A simple way to start exercising is to go for a 30 minute walk each day. Biking, swimming or even joining an aerobics class or local recreational sports team are also great ways to work out, and to relieve stress.
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Tobacco use is a major contributing factor for heart disease as well as for many types of cancer. Smoking constricts blood vessels and causes blood pressure to rise. As many as 150,000 heart disease deaths could be prevented annually if people quit smoking.
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Manage Your Weight
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can help to prevent heart disease, while also increasing energy levels. Combining diet and exercise is the best way to shed excess pounds, and keep them off. Fortunately the high-fiber, low-fat diet that you are eating for your heart and the regular physical activity will help you lose weight. Do not make weight loss a stressful obstacle, but a fulfilling challenge. Tips for losing weight safely and effectively include:
- Drinking eight glasses of water each day
- Eat small meals throughout the day
- Snack on nuts, seeds and fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day — you don't have to be hungry to lose weight
- Switch to vegetable protein and seafood in place of red meat
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There are so many ways to reduce stress in your life, and all of them are enjoyable! Choose which method is right for you and make it a priority. Too much stress can increase your risk of heart disease, while also making life more troubling. Making time each day to relax can make a huge difference once integrated into your life. Try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, a peaceful walk, therapeutic bathing or even listening to music and enjoying a book.
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Manage Your Diabetes
If you have diabetes it is even more important to take care of your heart. Diabetics have a much higher risk of heart attack or stroke. See your doctor regularly to manage your diabetes, and take any medications that are recommended. Also, be sure to eat a healthy diet and focus on maintaining good blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
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What Is in Your Control
There are many ways to prevent heart disease. Simply eating a heart healthy diet, getting regular physical activity and reducing stress can help to address many of the controllable risk factors. Do what is in your control and be sure to see your doctor regularly to monitor your well-being.
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CDC "Heart Disease Facts," http://www.cdc.gov/HeartDisease/facts.htm
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/hd/hd_whatare.html
American Heart Association, http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4563
Page, Linda. "Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition" (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).
photo by Basheer Tome