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5 Steps to a Healthier Heart

Watching your weight is a good place to start for a healthier heart, but there's plenty more you can do.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Quick! Can you name five things you can do to help your heart keep beating strong for years to come?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for both men and women. But research indicates that most heart attacks and other causes of heart disease death could be prevented.

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1) Blood Pressure

One of the strongest predictors for heart disease is measured in two numbers -- your blood pressure. You hear the numbers, but do you know what they mean?

The first or top number is systolic blood pressure -- the pressure of blood against artery walls during a heartbeat, when the heart is pumping blood.

The second number is diastolic blood pressure -- the pressure of blood against artery walls between heartbeats, when the heart is filling with blood.

  • Normal blood pressure is 119/79 or below.
  • Prehypertension is 120 to 139 (systolic) and/or 80 to 89 (diastolic).

Do these numbers seem a bit lower than you remember? What's considered a normal blood pressure was redefined in May 2003 when guidelines were revised to include a new category -- prehypertension.

Experts recommend that people with prehypertension -- an estimated 45 million men and women -- make heart-healthy lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of blood pressure complications, such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.

2) Cholesterol

Probably the most familiar heart disease risk factor, cholesterol is a type of fat that is an essential nutrient for your body. However, too much cholesterol -- or not enough of the good type of cholesterol -- floating around in your blood increases your risk for hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Cholesterol is considered abnormal when:

  • Total cholesterol is 200 or higher.
  • HDL or "good" cholesterol level is less than 40.
  • LDL or "bad" cholesterol is more than 160 (or lower if you have risk factors) -- with 190 and above being very high. However, the lower the LDL, the better. An LDL less than 100 is considered optimal; 100 to 129 is near optimal; 130 to 159 is borderline high.

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