Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States in men and women. Heart disease affects millions of Americans. The American Heart Association estimates that about every 34 seconds someone will have a heart attack. Let's repeat that--every 34 seconds. So if you are a slow reader, that means several people had heart attacks while you were reading this article.

Research about heart disease risk factors suggests that making even small lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and other serious cardiovascular conditions. What does that really mean, and more importantly what does it mean for you? Let me break it down:

Get moving! If you sit a lot, try to sit less. If you have a job where you are at your computer a lot, add a reminder to your electronic calendar every hour to stand up and walk away, do 15 push-ups, get some fresh air. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Avoid being the parking lot shark--lurking around waiting for an open spot in front--and park away from your destination so you can get some extra steps in. Step, march or jog in place for at least 15 minutes while watching television. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week or more. Walk. Get a step counter and set a goal to walk at least 10,000 steps daily. Just get moving.

Maintain ideal weight. Being overweight increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. To achieve long term weight loss, don't skip meals but eat 200-300 calories less each day. This amounts to one slice of bread, one pat of butter or one-half cup of regular soda. Eat smaller portions and eat breakfast every day.

Make a yearly date with the doctor. Get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked as recommended. Put the date on the calendar as a special date just like birthdays or anniversaries or the Super Bowl.

Control high blood pressure. Blood pressure that is higher than 120/80 is known to increase the risk of heart disease. Lifestyle modifications such as staying physically active and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain and high-fiber foods and lean protein can help control blood pressure. If you are an on-the-go person, arm yourself with information by checking out the nutrition guidelines on the Internet before going to restaurants. If you have high blood pressure, follow your healthcare provider's recommendations carefully, even if it means taking medication every day for the rest of your life. By managing your blood pressure you are lowering your risk of heart attack.

Quit tobacco use. Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and raises blood pressure. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones and digestive organs. Not to mention it also stains your teeth, clothing and hands. To quit smoking, make a personal quit plan. Pick a quit day and tell everyone about it. You will find out who supports your goal. Get rid of tobacco in the house, car, workplace and your secret stash.

Cut down on alcohol. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to a stroke. If you drink alcohol, drink a moderate amount, which equates to an average of one drink for women and two drinks for men per day. One drink is a 12-ounce can of beer or 4 ounces of wine, or 1-1/2 ounces of liquor.

Manage your stress. People can have a healthier heart when they reduce stress. Stress raises blood pressure and can damage the arteries. Learn how to manage your stress by using relaxation methods such as deep breathing exercises, counting to 10, and meditation.

Do your part. Care for your heart by eating a better diet, exercising, quit using tobacco and managing stress to reduce the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is preventable. Take charge of your health by making positive lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of heart disease. Small steps count, so start today.

What are you techniques, tactics and procedures for staying healthy? Check out our facebook page for what works for me, and share yours. http://www.facebook.com/USAPHC

For more information about taking care of your heart, visit:

American Heart Association, www.americanheart.org

National Institutes of Health, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/

Page last updated Wed February 1st, 2012 at 14:32