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Preventing and Treating Heart Disease continued...

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:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

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.

Of course, many of us have seen -- and ignored -- the suggestions for heart disease lifestyle changes before. Yet they really can make a difference. Heidenreich estimates that if everyone made some sensible lifestyle changes, the number of heart attacks in the U.S. would drop by 63% in the next 30 years.

To protect your health -- and protect your finances -- making changes to how you live can be a good idea. That monthly fee for a gym membership might seem a little pricey for your budget. But compared to the $1 million that a lifetime of treatment for coronary artery disease could cost, it's a good deal.