Here are five steps to help you keep your heart healthy.
1. Don't smoke. Tobacco use promotes plaque buildup in the arteries and increases blood clotting, which can result in heart attack. Nicotine also raises blood pressure. There simply is no "safe" tobacco, including smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes. The U.S. Surgeon General says even second-hand smoke poses serious health risks.
2. Eat a heart-healthy diet. This means consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and avoiding packaged foods that contain harmful trans fats. Eating fish like salmon and mackerel, which contain omega-3 fatty acids also can contribute to a healthy heart. Omega-3s also are found in other products, including flaxseed oil, canola oil and over-the-counter supplements.
3. Get enough exercise. How much is enough exercise? According to the American Heart Association, as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day can help reduce your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association also reports that walking is the single most effective form of exercise for achieving heart health. Studies show that every hour of walking may increase life expectancy by two hours.
4. Watch your weight. Carrying excess weight may lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which also may lead to heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that even modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, produces health benefits for people who are overweight.
5. Get regular screenings. It's important to discuss your overall health, including changes in diet and exercise, with your healthcare provider. Regular health screenings can detect changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels or potential risk factors for diabetes.
The American Heart Association offers a free online tool called the Heart360 Cardiovascular Wellness Center to help you track your cholesterol and blood glucose levels as well as your blood pressure and weight. For more information, visit www.heart360.org.