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Heart Health Center

Your Healthy Heart: A Woman’s Guide

Follow these 12 steps to preventing heart disease -- the number 1 threat to a woman's health.
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Healthy Heart Step 7: Get more exercise. High cholesterol is a risk factor for both sexes, but women may be harder hit than men. Women with "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) levels lower than 50 -- and triglycerides above 150 -- may be at higher risk of heart disease then men with similar numbers. "The magnitude of these risk factors is greater in women than men," says Goldberg. To compensate, she says, "Make your life more aerobic." Aerobic exercise helps boost your "good" cholesterol and lower the blood fats known as triglycerides. Bonus: Exercise also helps reduce blood pressure and keep weight your down.

Sangala agrees. "Aim for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week," she says. Kick it up a notch, to 60 to 90 minutes, if you're at higher-than-average risk of heart disease or need to lose weight. And don't make it any harder than it has to be. "You don't have to do very intense exercise that will make you feel weak and achy," she says. "A brisk walk is fine."

Healthy Heart Step 8: Shake your salt habit. After 55, women are more likely to develop high blood pressure than men,says the AHA. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure -- which is why all heart-healthy recipes use no salt at all, or low-sodium ingredients.

Your goal? Keep your blood pressure at 120/80 mm/Hg or below. Start by tossing out your salt shaker and reading food labels to add up the sodium content, Goldberg says. "Limit your salt intake to less than 2.3 grams of salt per day," she says. The AHA agrees: most doctors advise limiting yourself to 2,300 mg of salt daily. "Restaurant food tends to be heavily salted," Goldberg says, "so ask for the sauce and salad dressings on the side."

Healthy Heart Step 9: Eat fish twice a week."Eating fish at least twice a week can lower your triglycerides and help boost your levels of HDL, or 'good,' cholesterol," says Sangala. The key is to eat fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, or sardines, which are high in omega 3 fatty acids, the protective fats good for your heart.

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