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Heart Health Tips From a Top Cardiologist

Cut through the heart health confusion. Get tips from a cardiologist about diet, lifestyle, and more.

Do You Know Your Other Heart Health Risk Factors? continued...

A big plus: It doesn't take long for your body -- and your heart in particular -- to reap the health benefits of quitting. Twenty minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Two weeks to three months later, your circulation and lung function improve. Just one year after quitting, your excess risk of coronary heart disease is just half that of a smoker's.

You may have other risk factors for heart disease that are not on your radar. Mosca calls anxiety, anger, depression, and social isolation "silent epidemics" that are very prevalent, commonly missed, and potentially dangerous for your heart.

"Depression, for example, is very common, and it's very strongly linked to heart disease," she says. "If you or someone you love is depressed or harboring a lot of anger, or seems isolated, encourage them to seek help. There are many methods to help you deal with these risk factors."

A Healthy Heart: What's Up Your Family Tree?

There are some risk factors for heart disease that you can't control, and family history is one of them. If a close relative, like a mother, father, sister, or brother had a heart attack or died of heart disease -- especially at a young age -- then the health of your heart may be at greater risk as well.

"Families can share a predisposition to heart disease both because they have shared genes and a shared lifestyle," says Mosca. You get half your genes from mom and half your genes from dad -- but you probably also get your eating and exercise habits from them, too.

"If you have a family history of heart disease, it's important that you have yourself checked out," says Mosca.

You may find, for example, that you have high cholesterol and it needs to be managed with medication. On the flip side, you may be greatly reassured to find out that Dad's heart attack probably had to do with smoking and being overweight, and you don't share those risk factors. Either way, you can do something about your risk: genetics is not destiny.

The most important thing to understand about a healthy heart is that many of the factors that put you at risk for disease lie within your power to control.

"Even if you're not at high risk now, your most important goal should be to prevent yourself from developing increased risk," says Mosca. "You can do that through a heart-healthy lifestyle."

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Reviewed on July 18, 2007

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