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Some risk factors for heart disease can be controlled

There are some factors that increase your risk for heart disease over which you have no control. Being male, a woman after menopause, an African-American, getting older, or having a family history of heart disease are risk factors you cannot change.

However, you do have control over the most common factors that increase your risk for heart disease - obesity, high blood fats, high blood pressure, smoking and physical inactivity.

Being obese or overweight makes your heart work harder and makes you more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and high blood fats. Avoid weight gain, especially as you get older. If you are more that 20 percent heavier than your desirable weight, or are a woman with a waist size greater that 35 in., or man with a waist size greater than 40 in., make some lifestyle changes to improve your weight.

Increase your activity. Spend less time sitting or watching television. Consume fewer calories. Focus more on grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, lean meat or protein and fewer fats and high sugar foods. Weight loss, as small as 10 to 20 lbs., can improve your risk factors.

High blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, plus low blood levels of HDL cholesterol, all contribute to heart disease. You can keep your blood fats at desirable levels by reducing dietary saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight and being active. Have your blood fats checked every five years after age twenty. The desired level for total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL.

High blood pressure can damage your arteries, causing them to narrow and the heart to work harder to make blood flow. Blood pressure can be controlled by reducing salt intake, losing weight, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and take prescribed medications.

You are at higher risk for developing heart disease and having a heart attack if you have diabetes. It is very important to control your diabetes to protect your heart. Follow your eating plan, get exercise, lose weight if necessary, check your blood glucose levels and take your medication or insulin if prescribed.

You are more likely to die suddenly with heart disease if you smoke. Smoking can raise blood pressure, cause arteries to narrow and make blood more likely to clot and cause a heart attack. The best strategy is to never start smoking. Most Americans get little exercise these days and thus are missing out on probably the easiest and least expensive way to help prevent heart disease. Even a moderate level of activity, such as leisure walking, can be helpful if done regularly and consistently. More vigorous activities, such as aerobics or other active sports provide even more benefit. Aim to be active at least 30 minutes most days of the week, for a fit heart. Start slowly and check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Web posted on Thursday, February 23, 2006

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