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Seven steps to heart health

Even small changes can add years to your life and health to your years.

If you're over 20 and you're an American, you have a one in five chance of dying of a heart attack. In fact, about every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and every minute someone will die from one.

None of us want to believe we're at risk. A new study reveals — even when we've been told by a health professional that we have a risk factor for heart disease — we don't take it seriously. We've adopted a "not me" attitude toward our risk for heart disease that prevents us from adopting healthier, risk-lowering behaviors.

As a result, we don't usually address heart health until after a heart attack. And that's too late.

Based on their findings, the American Heart Association (AHA) has launched a new national goal: Prevent heart disease and stroke by helping people identify and make healthier lifestyle choices. They'd like to see a 20% improvement in cardiovascular health and a 20% reduction in deaths from heart attack and stroke in the next 10 years.

Seven Steps to Ideal Heart Health

The AHA has identified seven simple changes you can make to reduce your risk for heart disease:

  1. Don't smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible.

  2. Maintain a healthy weight. According to AHA, 8% of obese people misperceive their body size, believing they don’t need to lose weight or could afford to gain weight. Talk with your doctor to be sure. If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, you could reduce your risk for heart disease by losing weight. To have ideal cardiovascular health, shoot for a BMI of less than 25.

  3. Engage in regular physical activity. Your goal is at least 2½ hours of moderate intensity or 1¼ hours of high intensity exercise every week. Not only will you improve your heart health, you'll boost your immunities, lower your risk for chronic disease and improve your sleep and self-esteem.

  4. Eat a healthy diet. Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods every day, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Keep unhealthy fats, sugar and sodium to a minimum.

  5. Manage your blood pressure. For ideal heart health, your blood pressure needs to be below 120/80. Stress can affect your blood pressure, so take time each day to count your blessings instead of life's challenges.

  6. Take charge of cholesterol. Ideally, your cholesterol should be less than 200.

  7. Keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels. Your fasting blood glucose should be less than 100.

What's your risk?

Visit the AHA’s My Life Check website, where you can assess your risk for heart disease. Start by getting your heart health numbers — cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose — and learn what they mean. Then strive to get as close to "ideal" as you can.

"Ideal" may feel like an impossible dream, especially if some of your risks come from genetics instead of unhealthy behavior. But every step toward optimal health can lower your risk.

And remember, small changes add up. Even small reductions in your risk levels can give you a longer, healthier life that's free of disease.


1Circulation. American Heart Association. January 27, 2008.

2American Heart Association. Abstract 1475.