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8 steps toward a healthier heart

Every step counts on the path to a healthier heart.

Muthu Krishnan, M.D., FACC"Taking care of your heart is mostly a matter of creating good habits," says Lake Regional Cardiologist Muthu Krishnan, M.D., FACC. "You might be surprised at how easy it is to replace a few bad habits with a few good ones for a big improvement in heart health."

Dr. Krishnan shares these eight ways to begin:

1. Seek some sweet slumber

Ongoing research has linked sleeping too little — and sleeping too much — to obesity and diabetes, two major heart disease risk factors. At least seven hours is about right for overall health.

2. Stress less

Whether stress directly contributes to heart disease or triggers habits that do (like smoking and overeating), managing it is important. Exercising, practicing positive self-talk and setting aside a few minutes each day for things you enjoy can help. Talk with your doctor if your stress feels overwhelming.

3. Plate up heart-healthy foods

Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, along with fiber-rich whole grains. Enjoy heart-healthy fish, such as salmon, twice a week. To help decrease artery-clogging fats, choose lean meats, like skinless chicken breasts. Cut back on sodium (salt) and added sugars, like soda and sweets.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

If you're overweight, shedding even just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help trim your heart disease risk. Try to lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week. Your doctor can check your body mass index and your waist size to see if you should slim down.

5. Move things along

Take a brisk walk. Ride a bike. Play basketball with friends. Aim for a total of at least 2.5 hours of moderately intense activity a week. Even 10 minutes of activity several times a day can help you achieve that goal. Work in some strength training at least twice a week.

6. Learn about cholesterol-lowering meds

Statin drugs can lower cholesterol, and they've been shown to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor may suggest taking a statin regularly if you're at high risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.

7. Get screened for heart risks

"High blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels put you at risk for a future heart attack," Dr. Krishnan says. "Usually, these conditions go unnoticed, so even if you feel fine, you should get screened for them."

At a minimum, have your cholesterol tested and your blood pressure checked yearly.

8. If you smoke, commit to quit

Stopping smoking isn't easy, but medications and quit strategies can help. And no matter how long you've smoked, stopping now will help lower your heart disease risk. Ask your doctor about ways to kick the tobacco habit for good. If you do not have a doctor, find one at

Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Fast facts on heart disease

Heart disease continues to be the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and is responsible for 1 in 7 deaths.

When it comes to HDL, the good cholesterol, higher is better. Research suggests that laughter may make HDL go up while making stress hormones go down.

Even people with a high risk for heart attack can cut their risk in half by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 375, No. 24

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