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Tue, Aug. 20

Help your heart now - not later, when it's too late

February has been designated as American Heart Month, so it's a good time to step back and consider our individual heart health. But let's be frank - those of us who do not have active or apparent heart disease have likely not given our hearts a thought lately. We just keep moving right along, perhaps eating poorly and likely not exercising like we should. If you are one of those people who think, "My ticker is ticking right along, no worries," try to read the rest of this column from a place of prevention. What if you did things that could increase the chances that "your old ticker" stays healthy?

There is a website in keeping with this February focus that offers a wealth of information, including prevention tips (http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/abouthds/prevention.html).

Many of the people who are at high risk for heart attack or stroke don't know it. The good news is that many of the major risk factors for these conditions can be prevented and controlled. Talking to your doctor about your heart health and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked are important first steps to reduce your risk. Many other lifestyle choices - including eating healthy, exercising regularly, and following your doctor's instructions about your medications - can all help protect your heart and brain health.

Remember your ABCs:

• Appropriate aspirin therapy for those who need it

• Blood pressure control

• Cholesterol management

• Smoking cessation

Keep the ABCs in mind every day and especially when you talk to your doctor:

Talk to your doctor: Share your health history, get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and ask if taking an aspirin each day is right for you.

Control your blood pressure and cholesterol: High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. One in three U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and half of these individuals do not have their condition under control. Similarly, high cholesterol affects one in three American adults, and two-thirds of these individuals do not have the condition under control. Half of adults with high cholesterol do not get treatment. If your blood pressure or cholesterol is high, take steps to lower it. This could include eating a healthier diet, getting more exercise, and following your doctor's instructions about medications you take.

Eat healthy for your heart: What you eat has a big impact on your heart health. When planning your meals and snacks, try to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; check the labels on your food and select those with the lowest sodium; limit foods with high amounts of saturated fat, transfat and cholesterol; and cook at home more often, using foods that are low in sodium or have no salt added.

Get moving: Obesity can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. To keep your body at a healthy weight and to fight high blood pressure and cholesterol, make physical activity part of your daily routine. Try to fit in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.

Quit smoking: Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you're a smoker, quit as soon as possible, and if you don't smoke, don't start.

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