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Three Heart-Healthy Makeovers

Can you really improve your heart health and reduce your risk for cardiac disease?
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

Young or old, slim or overweight, male or female: Heart disease does not discriminate. We're all at risk for heart disease, still one of the top health conditions in the United States.

Over time, symptoms leading to heart disease -- such as plaque buildup in arteries, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol -- can cause havoc in your body without your knowledge. But eventually, something has to give -- either a heart attack gets your attention, or you realize the significant role your cardiovascular system plays in your well-being. That's when you turn your lifestyle around by tossing out your cigarettes, exercising, and eating healthy, just for starters.

And if you think heart disease can't happen to you, think again. These three different people from three walks of life all had their health challenged by heart disease. But now they are living well to tell the tale.

A Young Father Is Surprised by Heart Disease

A software engineer from Johnstown, N.Y., Mike Haverly is 30 years old, a husband, and a dad to a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, with another baby on the way. At 6 feet 1 inch, he's always been a big guy, even in high school when he peaked at 265 pounds -- a hefty weight he maintained for almost 10 years.

With a diet that wasn't exactly the picture of nutrition and a relatively sedentary lifestyle -- topped off by half a pack of cigarettes a day -- Mike never gave his health a second thought, believing youth was on his side. Or was it?

"About a year ago, my wife and I decided it was time for life insurance policies," says Haverly. "When they came to do the physicals, we were totally surprised -- my blood pressure was through the roof."

Mike's blood pressure measured in at 160/130. Considering that a normal reading is less than 120/80, and high is considered 140/90, his chart-topping numbers made Mike and his wife start to worry -- and for good reason. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or kidney failure, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease in young people not unusual

"Heart disease in young people is not unheard of at all," says Tracy L. Stevens, MD, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. "It's things like a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, alcohol, and cigarette smoking that start to put them at risk at a younger age."

High blood pressure is a symptomless condition, meaning you only know you have it if you get tested. Until then, your body is running in overdrive as the increased pressure in your arteries puts strain on your entire cardiovascular system.

"I was scared, and so was my wife," says Haverly. "I was kind of in shock, not knowing what having such high blood pressure could lead to. But the day I found out was the day everything started to change."

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