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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...

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.

"One of the things I've talked about with my doctor is my age," says Haverly. "We both think the best thing is that we've caught this at a young age, and I have a lot of time to do something about it. It's a big plus in my corner."

Heart-healthy goals

While Haverly's on the right path to heart health, there's even more he can do. Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD, offers these tips:

Drink moderately. Limiting alcohol to two drinks a day for men (one for women) can help increase his HDL or "good cholesterol."

Halt the salt. Haverly should watch his sodium intake to help control blood pressure. Many people think sodium comes from table salt, but most of us get it from processed foods, canned soups, lunch meat, and more.

Watch your weight. Haverly's on the right track, and he should keep up the good work -- losing as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Control the portions. It's the secret to weight loss success. He should limit high-calorie foods and be liberal with vegetables that fill him up but won't fill him out.

A Graduate Student Takes Action Against Heart Disease

Vernita Morgan, 40, is an aspiring PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, studying for a degree in education measurement and statistics. When she "grows up," she wants to help people better understand the issues around obesity, which can raise LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, lower HDL "good" cholesterol numbers, increase a person's blood pressure levels, and in some cases lead to diabetes. In people who are obese, heart disease is a major threat.

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