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    Three Heart-Healthy Makeovers

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

    A Graduate Student Takes Action Against Heart Disease continued...

    "I was going through a pretty tough semester in the fall of 2006," says Morgan. "I had three statistics classes, and at the same time I was coordinating a community health and wellness fair. So between these two major projects, it was a bit much, and over the course of several months I really let my health hit rock bottom."

    Risk factors of heart disease

    And she paid the price. About a week later, she had a doctor's appointment, where she learned her cholesterol was high, her blood pressure was above normal, and her weight was reaching upwards of 250. At 5 feet 4 inches, she knew she was in trouble.

    "I thought to myself, 'Here I am planning a health fair, and I can't even keep my own house in order,'" says Morgan.

    Morgan's plan was to start over, and set fair and attainable heart-health goals she could reach. She made it her mission to master every piece of cardio equipment at the fitness center -- the elliptical, the treadmill, the bike, and the dreaded stair climber. After a few months, she could spend an hour on any machine at the gym and feel good about it.

    Heart-healthy eating

    As a PhD student, she knows the value of education, so she learned more about nutrition and which foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, would help her cause. She drank 80 ounces of water every day, and used 6:30 p.m. as her personal cutoff for eating or snacking to avoid going to bed with a full stomach and to keep her daily calorie intake under control. Since 2006, Morgan has lost almost 50 pounds and continues to work at her weight. For the sake of her heart health, she's working on getting her body mass index (BMI) under 25 and her waist circumference under 35 inches -- both good measurements for women at risk for heart disease.

    Indeed, a healthy meal plan is key to Morgan's success. For heart-healthy eating, Zelman recommends brushing your teeth right after dinner to control nighttime munching and eating a vegetarian meal several times a week (for low-cal, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich boosts).

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