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12 Tips for Better Heart Health

Diet, sleep, fitness, and more -- how to strengthen and protect your heart right now
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

How do you get a healthier heart, right now? The answer sounds too good to be true: “By simply leading a healthier life,” according to Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Program and author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to Women’s Health.

That’s because even small, steady changes in your life mean a stronger, more efficient heart. “More than half of heart disease is preventable, and studies have shown that 90% of heart attacks in women can be prevented,” she adds. Further, the latest study in Archives of Internal Medicine shows that women who eat loads of veggies, fruit, whole grains, fish, and legumes; drink moderate amounts of alcohol; exercise; maintain a healthy weight; and don’t smoke have a whopping 92% decreased risk of having a heart attack compared with women with less healthy diets and habits.

An added bonus? “So many things we do to help our heart, like quitting smoking, eating more fiber, and moving more, also help other parts of our body, including our bones, colon, lungs, and skin,” Goldberg says. And February is Heart Disease Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to start improving your ticker -- and the rest of you.

1. Know your heart health numbers.

Establish a baseline to help plan every preventive step for the rest of the year. “You need to know if you are at risk before you can take action to lower your risk,” says Lori Mosca, MD, PhD, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and author of Heart to Heart: A Personal Plan for Creating a Heart-Healthy Family. Know your HDL or “good” cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, total cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, weight, and body mass index (BMI) numbers. And make an appointment now for a check-in next February to see if your new healthy habits are making the grade.

2. Target your triglycerides.

Shoot for a level of 150 or lower, says Peter H. Jones, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“Doctors usually talk about good and bad cholesterol and most folks will have that down, but triglycerides are a better marker for high risk of diabetes and heart disease,” says Jones.

Triglycerides are also much more responsive to lifestyle changes than other types of blood fats. “Your triglycerides can drop 30% to 50% just by reducing saturated fats and reducing your weight,” Jones says.

3. Go for nuts and plant sterols.

Your heart will love you if you eat six walnuts before lunch and dinner, according to Michael Roizen, MD, the chief wellness officer for Cleveland Clinic and chairman of the clinic’s Wellness Institute. Why? Because “walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to decrease inflammation in the arteries surrounding your heart, so they keep your heart functioning longer and better,” promises Roizen,co-author of the best-selling You: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty. “Walnuts will also make you feel fuller faster so you are less likely to overeat at meals.”

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