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12 heart health facts that can save your life

Photo credit: Hiroshi Watanabe - Getty Images

Photo credit: Hiroshi Watanabe - Getty Images

There is a burning reason to consider making changes that will increase your heart health: In this country, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, according to the CDC. And only about half of the women know this. Terrible facts, but there's an upside: There's a lot you can do to prevent problems in the future, and even turn back time on some problems that might already be hurting your ticker. These 12 facts can arm you with knowledge that can strengthen your heart and maybe even save your life.

Fact: Anyone the amount of smoking damages the heart.

Smoking damages almost every organ in the body, including the heart, says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute - how it works, its structure, the blood vessels and the blood itself. And evaporation also increases your risk, says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of Atria New York City and clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. "Arming is harmful to the heart, as well as the lungs and the brain," she says. "There is a 71% higher risk of stroke and a 59% higher risk of developing a heart attack when you steam."

Do this: If you smoke, do everything you can to quit. Start by talking to your doctor, who may refer you to programs and possible medications that may help. Also know that passive smoking also increases your risk, so send any smokers to the yard!

Fact: Sitting too much puts your heart in danger.

Sitting on our duffs for extended periods of time (whether at our desk or in front of the probe) has been shown in studies to increase the risk of heart disease by raising both blood pressure and blood sugar. Here's the reason: When we sit or lie down, our leg muscles (the body's largest) do not contract much and therefore do not perform their usual work of taking sugar from the bloodstream or helping to break down fatty acids in the blood. Bingo: Too much sugar and fatty acids accumulate.

Do this: Get out of your seat. It does not take much movement to counteract this: A recent small study showed that it can help to get up every 30 minutes and move for as little as three minutes. A mood-boosting idea at home: Make yourself a playlist of favorite upbeat songs that are about three minutes long, and get up from that chair every half hour for a solo bop. On the office? Take breaks and go up a few stairs.

Facts: Inflammation is a sharp indicator of heart risk.

Not all inflammation is bad - it's a natural way our bodies fight trauma and injury. But when it is chronic, it hangs around in the body, builds up and has a negative impact on your health. "It's definitely a risk marker for heart disease," says Dr. Goldberg. "Autoimmune diseases - such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome - are associated with inflammation. So is obesity."

Do this: Think about how you can lower inflammation. Regular aerobic exercise and weight loss, if necessary, can reduce inflammation, says Dr. Goldberg. It is especially important for people with an autoimmune disease, she adds. "The leading cause of death in people with autoimmune disease is heart disease, so they should be aware of their heart and heart disease risk factors. To measure for inflammation, a high-sensitivity blood test C-reactive protein can be ordered by your doctor."

Facts: Stress relief is a great heart health booster.

A new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) - and several other previous studies - showed that mental stress is a strong potential heart risk factor. The cause: The fight-or-flight reaction that accompanies stress releases hormones that cause changes in the body (for example, increased blood pressure and body fat over time). Stress also causes higher inflammation in the arteries.

Do this: Add some zen to your life. Think seriously about what your own personal path is to a calmer life, whether it's downloading a meditation app (and make time to use it!), And make sure you do not carry too much of the mental strain in the household when you start out. every day reading a compelling novel or taking a mindfulness walk every afternoon.

Facts: A healthy diet plan can do wonders for your heart.

A heart-healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, says the Office of Women's Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And it can certainly be delicious to eat in a way that protects your ticker!

Do this: Take these five steps. Dr. Goldberg advises patients to:

  • Cut far down on processed foods.

  • Reduce the amount of salt you eat (step 1 will help a lot with that!).

  • Cut down on simple carbohydrates (such as white rice, bread, pasta and sugar).

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, at least 5 servings a day, to add fiber and important nutrients.

  • Eat less saturated fat (as in fatty meats and high-fat dairy products).

A great way to hit all these steps, says Dr. Goldberg: Follow the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease.

Photo Credit: fcafotodigital - Getty Images

Photo Credit: fcafotodigital - Getty Images

Facts: Both cardio and strength training are important for the heart.

Exercise is a great heart booster, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Among other things, it can help keep your blood pressure in check, cut down on stress hormones and help the muscles draw oxygen out of the blood. In general, regular exercise - a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training - reduces the risk of sudden heart attacks and other potentially fatal heart events.

Do this: For optimal heart health, "get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week," says Dr. Goldberg. "And do some upper and lower strength training two or three times a week."

Fact: Eating too much sugar increases your risk of dying from heart disease.

Most Americans eat way too much added sugar (that is, the sugar that is added in food processing, not the natural sugar found in fruit). And there is a direct and significant link between added sugar intake and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in JAMA.

Do this: Cut down on added sugar. A good way to get started? Check out our guide, The Real Scoop About Sugar. It gives you step-by-step and painless ways to cut down.

Facts: It's the key to knowing your loved ones' heart health history.

Having family members with heart problems increases your own risk, especially when it comes to your parents and siblings; Learning about this will help equip you to develop your own ticker problems.

Do this: Dig into your family's health history - and do not assume that you know everything about your parents' health! Ask them directly, and while you are at it, also ask about other relatives (their siblings, your grandparents, etc.). It's even a smart idea to start drawing a family tree for heart health so you can share the information with your doctor.

Facts: Belly fat is especially dangerous for your heart.

It's true: After a certain age, women's hormones send a message to their bodies to start storing belly fat. It is not a stomach that is risky for your heart; it's the fat you can not see called visceral fat that is deeper down in the abdominal cavity, studies have shown. This is true even if your total weight is at a "healthy" level.

Do this: Keep an eye on the belly fat. There is no exercise or diet that specifically targets belly fat (or any fat) - spot reduction is a myth. However, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), if you follow the federal guidelines for physical activity (150 minutes per week), this can successfully reduce abdominal fat.

Facts: Diabetes can lead to cardiovascular problems.

Type 2 diabetes, if not controlled, can increase your chance of heart disease, damage your arteries and increase the risk of stroke, the AHA explains.

Do this: Take steps to reduce your risk of diabetes. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, say the National Institutes of Health, including: gaining a healthy weight (losing only 5 to 7 percent of your body weight can help prevent or postpone diabetes, according to the NIH), get half an hour of exercise at least 5 days a week and choose healthy foods most of the time.

Facts: High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

AHA refers to high blood pressure as a "silent killer" because there are usually no symptoms. Therefore, getting your blood pressure checked regularly is an important heart health step. This is especially important for black people, the AHA adds, because in the United States they have a higher rate of HBP than other racial and ethnic groups; it also tends to be more serious and medication may be less effective. If HBP is not detected or controlled, it can destroy one's blood vessels and heart, as well as the brain, eyes and kidneys.

Do this: Have your blood pressure checked regularly. Talk to your doctor about how often it should be monitored. If your blood pressure turns out to be on the high side, then discuss the smartest changes for you to bring it to a healthy level. Many things mentioned in this article can help reduce BP, including eating healthy, keeping an eye on weight and belly fat, relieving stress and exercising regularly. Also important, according to the Mayo Clinic: Keep an eye on your sodium levels, and keep a healthy lid on alcohol intake.

Photo credit: AaronAmat - Getty Images

Photo credit: AaronAmat - Getty Images

Facts: A healthy level of cholesterol can prevent blockages in your arteries.

The AHA suggests that everyone over the age of 20 get their cholesterol checked every four to six years - and more often than not if you have heart risk factors or already have heart disease. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to fat buildup in your arteries; low Levels of HDL cholesterol - which help transport cholesterol away from your arteries - are also unhealthy. Your triglyceride levels will also be monitored; if they are high and the other two levels are skewed, your risk of heart attack and stroke is higher.

Do this: Get your cholesterol checked. If you need to improve your cholesterol levels, your doctor will talk to you about healthier eating habits, the importance of exercise and possibly medication.

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