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    Three Heart-Healthy Makeovers

    Can you really improve your heart health and reduce your risk for cardiac disease?

    A Young Father Is Surprised by Heart Disease continued...

    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."

    That very night, he went for a walk, came home, and cleaned out the refrigerator. He threw out all the deli meat. He tossed the red meat and the fried food they had stocked in the freezer. He got rid of the soda and the beer. His next stop was his doctor.

    Weight loss for heart health

    "The first thing he told me was that we were not going to screw around with this," says Haverly. "He gave me a serious talking-to about my diet, about exercising, about smoking, and then wrote me a prescription for high blood pressure right away."

    Haverly took his doctor's intimidating advice to heart, literally. He joined a local gym, and at least three times a week he does aerobic exercise and strength training. When the weather is agreeable, he heads outside for a brisk walk.

    Now, more than a year after getting the news that his heart was headed in a dangerous direction, Haverly has turned his cardiovascular system around. He's dropped 50 pounds, and through monthly checkups at his doctor's office, he knows his blood pressure is pretty consistently closer to where it should be at 130/80. And he's finally kicked the cigarette habit -- a major risk factor for heart disease -- with the help of a nicotine patch.

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