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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 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.

If you already have heart disease or high triglycerides, ask your doctor if fish oil supplements might be right for you. There are 2 forms of omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil supplements -- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) -- which the AHA advises to help some women build a more healthy heart.

Healthy Heart Step 10: Limit alcohol. While an occasional glass of red wine might be heart-healthy, too much wine, beer, or liquor does more harm than good -- especially for women. "Women can have one glass of wine a day," Sangala says, "because when they begin to take more than that, it can actually raise your triglycerides, so you can lose some of the benefits."

Healthy Heart Step 11: Control stress. "Women tend to be eternal caregivers, meaning that they provide care without limits or boundaries and often get swallowed up in a hectic schedule," says Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and author of Body For Life for Women. "This increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol on a chronic basis, and high levels of cortisol are known to set women up for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack."

Stress also kick-starts a vicious cycle of turning to food for comfort. Your best bet? Learn to say no more often, she says. "Breathing also works like a charm when you feel yourself getting distressed," she says. "Take a deep breath and blow it out slowly."

Healthy Heart Step 12: Reduce your risk of diabetes. "Women with diabetes have 5 to 7 times the risk of heart disease or heart attack," Peeke says. She suggests measuring your girth -- the circumference around your abdomen at the belly button. "Make sure your girth is below 35 inches; if it's not, we have a big problem. You are now at huge risk for diabetes and heart disease."

If you're overweight, you can lower your risk of diabetes -- and thus heart disease -- by dropping pounds. For starters, Peeke says, "Try eating small meals every 3 or 4 hours so you don't binge. Reign in your portions and refined sugars, and watch the quality of your carbs." In other words, she says, "Opt for oatmeal, not a scone at Starbucks."

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Reviewed on July 01, 2007

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