8 Ways to Keep Your Heart Happy

While heart disease kills more men and women than any other disease in developed countries, it turns out there's a lot you can do to keep your heart healthy.

We have learned a tremendous amount in recent years about the risk factors that predispose us to heart disease. One of the important things we have learned is that each of us has significant control over most of these risk factors. And therefore, to a large extent, each of us holds our cardiac fate in our own hands. Even people who have a strong genetic predisposition to heart disease can often significantly delay the onset of heart problems by adopting healthy lifestyles.

There are at least eight categories of lifestyle choices that can substantially impact your odds of developing heart disease. The following is a list of resources that will help you understand the kinds of lifestyle changes you can make, in each of these eight categories, to help prevent heart disease and keep your heart healthy.

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Manage Your Diet and Weight

A poor diet often leads to obesity, and obesity can be very damaging to the heart and vascular system (especially when it is accompanied by a sedentary lifestyle). Learn how trans fats affect your heart and how the Mediterranean diet might help. Also learn about the BMI controversy so you can best gauge your risk.

Get Plenty of Exercise

A sedentary lifestyle is very bad for the entire cardiovascular system, and it can also contribute to metabolic problems, such as high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Getting plenty of exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Learn how much exercise you really need, how exercise affects your HDL cholesterol, and the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation if you've already had a heart attack.

Don't Smoke

Of all the things you can do to ruin your health, smoking is the most ruinous. If you smoke you are likely to develop heart disease decades earlier than you otherwise might. Even if you don't develop premature heart disease, you will likely suffer from one of the other scourges of smoking: cancer, lung disease, premature aging, and other conditions that make you sickly, or wrinkly and old, before your time.

Manage Your Cholesterol Levels

Blood lipids—cholesterol and triglycerides—are important determinants of cardiac risk. Here's what you should know about bad cholesterol, good cholesterol, and the things you can do—diet, lifestyle, and medications—to keep your cardiac risk as low as possible.

Manage Your Blood Pressure

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is extremely common and often poorly treated. Unfortunately, inadequately treated hypertension can lead to both heart attacks and especially strokes. Learn more about living well with high blood pressure and medications used for treatment.

Learn to Manage Stress

Does stress really cause heart disease? What kind of stress? There are things you can do to mitigate all kinds of stress, which can have dramatic positive effects on your overall health.

Control Your Blood Sugar

Insulin resistance—which can manifest as either diabetes of metabolic syndrome—leads to high blood sugar and a host of other metabolic problems that greatly increase your risk of heart disease.

Other Things You Should Know

In addition to all of the above, there are several other risk factors and lifestyle choices that may impact your chances of getting heart disease. Some of these are listed here.

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