Smart Heart Action Kit
Author : Dr. Timothy Johnson    -   Subject : Health

    Could you use an additional 10 years? Reduce your risks of heart disease and stroke and you could add as much as a decade to your life, says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

    While you have little control over risks associated with gender, age or heredity, you do have the power to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Follow these 10 essential steps to help yourself stay heart-strong.

    Don't smoke
    Stay slim
    Stress less
    Control your cholesterol
    Watch your blood pressure
    Get your vitamins
    Treat depression
    See your physician regularly
    Consider (female) hormone replacement therapy

    1. Don't smoke
    Tobacco use increases heart rate and raises blood pressure, which puts you at greater risk for angina, heart attacks, aneurysms, hypertension, blood clots, strokes and, of course, cancer -- about two to four times the risk of nonsmokers, to be exact. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared tobacco use the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, responsible for 430,000 deaths per year. If you don't smoke -- great. If you do, stopping must be your No. 1 life priority.
    The good news is that your heart can rebound from the damages of cigarette smoking in as little as three years. A five-pronged approach has proven essential for long-term success, the surgeon general says. Follow ALL of these steps for your best chance at kicking butts -- for good:

    1. Get ready: Set a quit date; clear your home, car and office of ashtrays, cigarettes and other smokers; analyze what will help and hinder your resolve to quit.

    2. Get support from family, friends, coworkers, your doctor or other healthcare professionals and support groups.

    3. Learn new skills and behaviors -- including distractions, new routines and relaxation strategies -- along with adding small enjoyments and treats to your day and drinking plenty of water and other fluids.

    4. Get medication and use it correctly. Nicotine gum is available without a prescription; inhalers, nasal sprays and patches can be prescribed by your physician. Antidepressants, such as bupropion SR (Wellbutrin) may be prescribed as well.

    5. Be prepared for relapse or difficult situations. Being around other smokers, bad moods, depression or alcohol consumption are just some of the factors that can drag you down or off course. Do your best to avoid them and to avoid weight gain (another common discouraging factor) through good eating and exercise.

    Tip: Get more strategies for quitting smoking.

    2. Exercise
    Even a moderate amount of physical activity can cut your heart disease risk in half, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You'll get the most benefit from aerobic activities that strengthen your heart and lungs -- activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling and stair climbing. However, any regular physical activity (even mild to moderate exercise) can help reduce your risk of heart disease.

    Invest as little as 90 minutes a week in vigorous exercise, and you'll build a stronger, longer-lasting heart, not to mention improve your appearance, appetite, stress level and libido. For best heart and lung conditioning, devote at least four or more days per week to vigorous exercise lasting 30 minutes or more. The best exercises: aerobic dancing, bicycling, cross-country skiing, hiking, ice hockey, jogging, jumping rope, rowing, running in place, stair climbing, stationery cycling, swimming, walking briskly.

    Tip: Find the right exercise for your schedule, budget and personality with the, Workout Wizard.

    3. Stay slim
    If you are overweight or obese, those extra pounds are putting you at risk for not only heart disease and stroke, but also diabetes, cancer and a range of other health complications.

    In general, a healthy adult's weight-to-height ratio, or body mass index (BMI), should be no more than 25. Calculate your BMI to determine if you are at an unhealthy weight.

    If you need to lose weight, find a safe and steady program that's flexible and geared toward lasting results. Look for a program that fits your habits and lifestyle -- preferably one that offers counseling and support.

    Tip: Our exclusive ThirdAge diet lets you Say YESTM to choice, flexibility and good health.

    4. Stress less
    Studies suggest that emotional factors such as anger and chronic stress influence one's risk for heart disease. Conversely, loving relationships can help decrease your risks. Some studies have shown that the most commonly reported incident preceding a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event. Other research suggests that highly competitive, quick-tempered, "Type A" personalities are at greater risk for heart attack.

    A good stress reduction program includes exercise, balanced nutrition, social support, positive thinking and relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, fulfilling hobbies or deep breathing.

    Tip: Practice relaxing deep-breathing and other stress-reduction strategies with the Stress Relief Kit for Boomers.

    5. Control your cholesterol
    High cholesterol clogs arteries and increases your risk of stroke, heart disease and vascular disease. Keeping your cholesterol low ensures better blood circulation (and healthy sexual functioning).

    Once you turn 40, get your cholesterol levels checked each year. High HDL means good news for your cardiovascular system -- you want it to be as high as possible, at least in the 40 to 50 range. High LDL, on the other hand, means you're at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Keep your LDL as low as possible -- at 130 or below -- unless you have diabetes or heart disease. In that case, the American Diabetes Association's new guidelines call for LDL of 100 or less. Total cholesterol should be at 200 or less.

    For most people, smart diet and lifestyle choices are all that's needed to have a healthy cholesterol level. Cut fried foods, red meat, dairy products and saturated fats from your diet; eat more fish and exercise regularly to clean cholesterol out of the arteries. Practicing stress reduction is also helpful. For other people, prescription drugs known as "statins" may be required to help lower cholesterol. Statins have potential short- and long-term side effects, so discuss them thoroughly with your doctor.

    Tip: Make good cholesterol a part of your daily routine with practical solutions from the Cholesterol Control Action Kit.

    6. Watch your blood pressure
    High blood pressure makes your heart work harder than it should to pump blood to all parts of the body. It also contributes to stroke and kidney disease.

    Alcohol, sodium, dietary weight and animal fat can contribute to high blood pressure. If you drink, limit yourself to one drink (women) or two drinks (men) per day. Keep sodium consumption at no more than 2,400 milligrams a day -- about 1-1/4 teaspoon of salt.

    Women who take birth control pills should get their blood pressure checked regularly, since oral contraceptives can slightly increase blood pressure.

    Perhaps the best defense against high blood pressure is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Studies show that blood pressure can be reduced with this eating plan low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. DASH is low in sodium and rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, protein and fiber. A recent study published in Circulation (August 22, 2000) showed that DASH also reduces levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that appears to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

    The final word on high blood pressure: If your health care provider has prescribed medication for your blood pressure, take it -- even if you don't feel any symptoms.

    Tip: Find foods high in potassium, magnesium, fiber and calcium in the Good Foods Glossary.

    7. Get your vitamins
    Make sure you get daily doses of folate (folic acid), B6 and B12 in order to keep your homocysteine levels under control. Recent research associates high levels of this naturally occurring amino acid with greater risks of heart disease, stroke and impaired circulation.

    Aim for 400 micrograms of folic acid, 2 mg of B6 and 6 mcg of B12 (the B vitamins are needed to properly metabolize folic acid). You don't need the folate supplements available at pharmacies and health food stores. A well-balanced diet containing cereals, breads and other grain products (many are now fortified with extra folate) and fruits and vegetables like spinach, strawberries, oranges and broccoli, will naturally provide the folate you need. If in doubt, most standard adult multivitamins contain the recommended quantities of folic acid and B vitamins.

    Tip: Folate and B vitamins are depression-fighting mood boosters, too. Find great natural sources at your grocery store.

    8. Treat depression
    Depression is a much more common diagnosis than is recognized. Many studies have associated it and anger with higher death rates from cardiovascular disease. But don't ignore "the blues" and hope they'll go away, because depression is very susceptible to treatment. Optimism, a sense of humor and exercise are proven antidotes -- ask your doctor or a mental health professional for help.

    9. See your physician regularly
    Regular checkups will ensure that your blood pressure, cholesterol and other health indicators are reviewed as needed. More importantly, they'll help you establish a rapport with your physician and keep the lines of communication open. Use the opportunity to ask questions and get advice on how you can stay heart-healthy.

    10. Consider hormone replacement therapy (women only)
    Women's naturally occurring hormones appear to offer protective benefits against heart disease. However, when women enter menopause, they lose that "edge," and their CVD risk levels nearly match those of men. Some studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women after menopause can control cholesterol and reduce a woman's risks of heart disease. But HRT is not without side effects and risks. If you're considering HRT, talk it over in detail with your physician.

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