Healthy hearts: Decrease your family's risk for heart disease

Even if you are genetically disposed to heart disease, the number one killer of men and women in the United States, lifestyle changes and monitoring your family's health can greatly reduce your risk. Preview these easy steps to get started.

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  • Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Although some people are genetically disposed to heart disease, you can greatly decrease your family’s risk with lifestyle changes and actively monitoring your family’s health.

  • It is important to understand the different kinds of heart disease and your family's medical history. Unfortunately, my children are at risk for heart disease due to genetics. High blood pressure, stroke and heart attack problems have affected grandparents on both sides of the family.

  • Congenital heart defects, acute coronary disease, arrhythmias and angina are other examples of heart disease and its complications. Knowing the genetic risk you were born with will help you prepare to fight back against heart disease.

  • Next, learn what changes you need to make in your life to lower your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following:

  • Keep your weight under control

  • People of all ages are at a greater risk of heart disease if they are overweight or obese. Use an online body mass index calculator to see if your weight is healthy, or consult your physician. Keeping a trim waist is also a good sign of lower risk. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommend less than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.

  • Eat smart for your heart

  • Your diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high fiber foods (like whole grains) and foods low in sodium. These foods will keep your blood pressure and blood cholesterol low and your arteries free of damaging plaque buildup.

  • Keep moving

  • The heart is a muscle, and it needs to be worked to stay healthy. Additionally, exercise keeps your blood pressure and cholesterol low. Try to be moderately active 30 minutes a day on most days.

  • Don’t smoke

  • Smoking increases your risk. Fortunately, quitting lowers your risk over time.

  • Limit or avoid alcohol use

  • Over-consumption of alcohol increases blood pressure.

  • Be proactive about reducing your family’s risk for heart disease. Some changes may be hard at first, but well worth the time and effort. Don’t let your loved ones become the next heart disease statistics. Eat right, exercise more and be proactive about medical screenings. Your heart and your family will be better for it.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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