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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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Need an added incentive? Take this advice to heart: “You start to improve your heart health within minutes of quitting,” she says. And the heart health dividends keep growing. “After one year, your heart disease risk is cut in half -- and after 10 years of not smoking, your heart disease risk is the same as for someone who has never smoked.”

Secondhand smoke counts too. A recent study found that women who are exposed to other people’s smoke increased their risk of heart attacks by 69%, strokes by 56%, and peripheral artery disease (PAD) by 67%, when compared with women who did not hang out around smokers. Clogged arteries in the legs, abdomen, pelvis, arms, and neck are linked with PAD. “Tell your friends to quit, too, or make new friends,” Goldberg says.

8. Drink a little alcohol a day to keep heart disease away.

“For women, up to one glass of alcohol a day and, for men, up to two glasses a day can help reduce risk of heart disease,” says Goldberg. “Alcohol may help the heart by increasing levels of HDL cholesterol,” she explains. But keep in mind: More is not merrier. “Alcohol also has calories, and too much can cause high blood pressure, worsen heart failure, and cause heart rhythm abnormalities.”

9. Strengthen your heart with weight training.

“Strength training reduces your percentage of body fat, keeps your weight down, and increases your muscle mass and endurance for aerobic exercise,” says Goldberg. “Do some weight training with free weights twice a week, making sure to focus on both your upper and lower body,” she says. “As your aerobic capacity improves through strength training, your good HDL cholesterol levels will increase.”

10. Measure your waist size to gauge your heart health.

“Take a tape measure and measure your middle,” Goldberg says. “If your waist size is more than 35 inches in women or more than 40 inches in men, this tells you that you are at increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”

The best way to make a dent in that spare tire? “Get serious about being more active and get rid of simple sugar and white-floured foods in your diet,” Goldberg says, adding that these foods tend to take up residence right around the middle.

11. Reduce your blood pressure by reducing your salt.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and reducing salt intake can help lower blood pressure. Cook with herbs in place of salt, and make sure you read food labels to see just how much salt is in prepared foods. “Aim for less than 2.3 grams [about a teaspoon] of salt per day,” Goldberg says. And keep up the good work when you are dining out, she adds. “Ask for the sauce and salad dressings on the side because restaurant food tends to be heavily salted.”

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