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8 Ways to Lower Your Heart Disease Risk

You can do a lot to lower your odds of getting heart disease. Taking action will improve your health -- and, possibly, save your life. Get going on these 8 ways to get on track.

1. Quit smoking. If you smoke, you are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as nonsmokers, and you’re much more likely to die if you do have a heart attack.

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2. Improve cholesterol levels. You're more likely to get heart disease if you have:

  • Total cholesterol level over 200
  • HDL ("good") cholesterol level under 40
  • LDL ("bad") cholesterol level over 160

Cholesterol isn't the only thing that matters. Your doctor will consider the big picture, including all your potential risks. To help lower cholesterol levels, eat a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat.

3. Control high blood pressure. More than 50 million people in the U.S. have hypertension, or high blood pressure, making it the most common heart disease risk factor. Exercise and healthy eating help. Some people may need medicine to control their blood pressure, too.

4. Get active. People who don't exercise are more likely to get heart disease, and die from it, than people who are active. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you aren't active now. She can tell you what you can do.

5. Follow a heart-healthy diet. Eat foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Just about everyone should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and other plant-based foods. The fiber is good for your cholesterol, and you'll get vitamins the natural way, from foods.

You can still eat fish (especially salmon or tuna, which are high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids), poultry, and meat, but make it lean and keep the portions modest. Also limit salt and sugar. Most people get too much of both.

6. Get to a healthy weight. Losing extra weight is good for your heart. It can also help you lower high blood pressure and manage diabetes.

7. Control diabetes.Diabetes makes heart disease more likely. Many people who have diabetes don't know it. Get tested and get treated.

8. Manage stress and anger. Everyone has stress, and it's normal to get angry now and then. When stress and anger flare up, especially if it happens a lot, that's a problem. Managing your stress and handling your anger in healthy ways puts you back in charge.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Thomas M. Maddox, MD on May 12, 2012
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