How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

What your pants size, your dog, and even your visits to the dentist have to do with keeping your ticker healthy.

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We know, youve heard all this heart-health stuff before: Get your cholesterol down. Take that Spinning class. Order the salmon. Yawn. But there are some things you may not have heard about how to keep this marvelous muscle going strong: Check your waistband. Pay attention to your pregnancies. Dont skip date night. Intrigued? Check out the latest ways to show your heart some love.

You know: to eat right and keep your weight down.

You maybe didnt know: Were not just talking about nixing marbled steak and trans-fat-filled fries. Its also about blood sugar, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, director of the New York University Womens Heart Program and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. Your body responds to high blood sugar by pumping out more insulin to try to turn that sugar into energy. "Too much insulin raises your triglycerides and causes inflammation of the arteries, making them more vulnerable to hardening," Dr. Goldberg explains.

Do this: In addition to choosing a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, eat lots of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, says Nakela Cook, MD, MPH, medical officer at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Also, go easy on sweets and refined carbs, which can send blood sugar and insulin levels soaring. The American Heart Association recommends having just 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

You know: to snub out those ciggies for good.

You maybe didnt know: Your husbands habit could hurt your heart, too. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work have a 25 to 30% higher risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Do this: If you smoke, quit any way you can and put the tobacco cash toward a trip to Cancun to celebrate the end of your first smoke-free year—by then, youll have cut your heart disease risk in half, Dr. Goldberg says. (In 15 years, youll have the same risk as someone whos never smoked.) Or use that beach outing to bribe a loved one who smokes—when they call it quits, youll both benefit.

You know: to move your heinie.

You maybe didnt know: You dont have to be a lunatic about it. To cut your risk of heart attack and stroke by 35 to 50%, all you need is 30 minutes, five times a week, Dr. Goldberg says. You can even break that half-hour into three 10-minute intervals. Want to work out more? Youll give your HDL ("good") cholesterol an extra boost—and burn more calories, of course.

Do this: Anything that gets you breathing a bit heavily, that you enjoy, and that youll do consistently. Brisk walking, raking, or shoveling are all good, Dr. Goldberg says: "The important thing is to move, and do it regularly."

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Stephanie Dolgoff
Last Updated: December 17, 2010

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