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Heart Health Center

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How to Wreck Your Heart

By Jen Uscher
WebMD Feature

No one sets out to hurt their heart. But over time, some bad habits can add up and take their toll.

You may have more power than you think just by changing what you do, or don’t do.

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"There’s a lot of reason to believe you can trump your family history or promote a healthier, longer life if you focus as early as possible on the risk factors you can control,” says cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

If you find yourself doing any of the following five things, make a change for your heart's sake:

1. Sit and Be Still

You may have heard that "sitting is the new smoking." It's true: Spending a lot of time seated is bad for you. Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active, according to the surgeon general.

Lack of exercise can harm your heart in many ways. For example, it can lead you to high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

It’s not just about working out. You need to move more throughout your day.

The fix: Even a little bit can make a big difference. Get up from your chair more often at work. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (like a brisk walk) on most days of the week.

2. Ignore What Your Heart Tells You

Trying to convince yourself that the discomfort in your chest is just heartburn? It might be, but it could also be a warning sign that you have a condition or are having a heart attack.

"Don’t miss an opportunity to protect yourself," says cardiologist Mark Urman, MD, of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.

The fix: If you have any of the following symptoms, call 911 right away. Prompt treatment could save your life.

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, or in the back, shoulders, neck, or jaw
  • Unusual tiredness

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