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Preventing and Treating Heart Disease

You can help cut your risk of heart disease -- and the medical costs that go with it -- by making lifestyle changes. Even if you've already developed heart disease, it's not too late. Lifestyle changes can still have a big impact, Heidenreich says.

Try these tips:

Get more physical activity. Regular exercise can help you:

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That could be 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise -- such as brisk walking or biking -- five days a week.

Improve your diet. Eat more foods from vegetable sources and fewer foods from animal sources. It's a simple way of cutting back on the unhealthy fats in your diet.

Practice moderation, too. "It's not just what you eat, but how much," Heidenreich says. No matter how healthy a food might be, eating too much of it will make you gain weight.

Eat less salt. Sodium directly contributes to high blood pressure, which in turn leads to cardiovascular disease. A 2010 study estimates that if everyone in the U.S. cut the amount of salt they ate each day by 1/2 teaspoon it would prevent between 54,000 and 99,000 heart attacks each year.

Cutting out salt isn't easy. Start by gradually reducing the amount you add to food, Heidenreich says. Pay attention to sodium on nutritional labels, too. Packaged or processed foods account for 75% to 80% of the salt we take in.

Stress less. Researchers aren't sure how chronic stress contributes to heart disease, but the two are linked. Do what you can to limit tension in your life. Try stress-reduction techniques such as:

Control other risk factors. If you have risk factors for heart disease -- like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes -- work with your doctor to get them under control. If you smoke, you need to quit.

"Stopping smoking is the most important way of reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease," Heidenreich says.