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Features - Posted January 30, 2010 11:50 a.m.

Go Red by the Numbers

Today we’re learning more and more about the way our health needs change over time. While some things never change, like the need for a healthy diet, regular exercise and a positive attitude, other aspects of your health are simply due to your stage of life.

Age, however, can be deceiving. We often see patients who have experienced heart-related incidents at age 35 and younger. With that in mind, make it your goal to know your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers as well as you know your dress size and shoe size. Instead of counting wrinkles (not that you have any) keep an eye on your calorie count - and eat from each of the six food groups as recommended by the USDA and the American Heart Association. Above all, remember: your body and current state of health are as unique as you are. That's why it's so important for women to find realistic heart health goals with the help of their doctors and to be aware of the lifestyle choices that can decrease the risk of heart disease.

The more thoughtfully you protect your heart, starting as early as your 20s, the less likely you'll face the life-threatening challenges posed by cardiovascular disease. No matter your age or where you feel you are in life, the best time to take action and get healthy is always right now.

From jogging with your friends, to swapping healthy recipes, to keeping up with loved ones and learning your family history, your heart health depends on a life-long commitment. As always, the first way for you, as a woman, to Go Red is to take good care of yourself every day.

The information you find here will help you take charge of your health so you can continue to renew your commitment to fight back against heart disease in all forms. During a heart check up, your doctor takes a careful look at your "numbers," including your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, your blood pressure and more.

Knowing your numbers is an important part of keeping your heart healthy. It can help you and your doctor know your risks and mark the progress you're making toward a healthier you. To get a quick overview of numbers you need to know and the goals you need to reach, start with the following chart. If you choose, you can even post it on your refrigerator as a reminder to love your heart. Then read on to learn the steps you can take to reduce your risk for heart disease. Once you know a few key facts about your numbers, you'll be on your way to mapping out a heart-healthy lifestyle for you and your loved ones.

Keep Your Numbers in Check
The first step to a healthy heart is learning the simple things you can do every day. By getting involved in fun physical activities and enjoying nutritious meals, you can help reduce your risk of heart disease. But don't do it for the "numbers," do it for you!

Get Physical
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease is to start getting regular, moderate exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. Of course, if it's been a while since you've been physically active, the hardest part is just getting started. Moral support and accountability increase your chances of success, so find a co-worker or friend to get physical with.

Diet & Nutrition
Make good food choices. Healthy food habits can help you reduce three risk factors for heart attack and stroke: high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight.

- Eat a balanced diet

- Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol

- Drink unsweetened, 100 percent fruit juice instead of soda.

- Enjoy a large glass of ice water, hot tea or another calorie-free beverage. Garnish with a twist of lemon or lime.

- Divide the extra portions of recipes into containers to eat throughout the week.

- Eat with other people. You'll eat less than if you eat alone.

- Know your snack "triggers" and plan ahead. Fight the urge for high calorie/high-saturated-fat and trans fat foods by grabbing pre-cut carrots, celery and other raw vegetables when you're on the run.

- Shop for heart-healthy foods

Quit Smoking
Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. If you smoke cigarettes, you have a higher risk of illness and death from heart attack, stroke and other diseases. What's more, constant exposure to other people's tobacco smoke increases your risk, even if you don't smoke. The good news is that when you stop smoking, no matter how long or how much you've smoked your risk of heart disease and stroke starts to drop. It's cut in half after one year without smoking, then continues to decline until it's as low as a nonsmoker's risk. So if you don't smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, love your heart and quit today.

By the numbers, heart disease continues to be the number one killer of American women. We encourage you to sit down with your physician, to understand your numbers and for you to take control of how heart disease will impact you and those you love.

by Dr. Don H. Thompson

Don is the CEO of the Cardiology Center of Amarillo, LLP. He is also the Board Chairman for the local chapter of the American Heart Association.
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