Take Heart -- You've Got Control!
By Stephanie English
The main cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis, which is the thickening and hardening of the arteries.
The main cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis, which is the thickening and hardening of the arteries. A heart attack occurs if an artery closes all the way or narrows so much that a blood clot blocks the blood flow. Advancing age and heredity are two risk factors for heart disease that can't be controlled, but other risk factors are under your control.
According to the American Heart Association, here are steps you can take to reduce your risk for heart disease:
Maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the body's cells. Two ways to lower your cholesterol without medication are to exercise 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week and eat a diet low in saturated and trans fats, as well as total fat. Fats should make up only 25 to 28 percent of your total daily calories.
Lower high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder than normal. When this occurs over time, the heart can enlarge and arteries can become scarred and hardened. Work with your doctor to treat high blood pressure with medication and changes in your diet and lifestyle.
Quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk for heart disease by speeding the development of atherosclerosis, reducing your HDL ("good") cholesterol and raising your blood pressure. Kicking the habit is one of the best things you can do for your heart and health.
Maintain a healthy weight, with a body mass index between 18.5 and 25. Your risk for heart disease increases if you're overweight. Obesity raises cholesterol levels and can lead to diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease.
Manage diabetes. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely than other people to have a heart attack. If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar levels regularly and work to keep them within healthy limits through diet, exercise, and medications.
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