Heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the United States. It is also the leading cause of disability and costs Americans billions of dollars each year in medical expenses. Our risk of developing heart disease depends on many different factors. If someone in our family previously suffered from heart disease there is a higher possibility that we can develop heart problems; other risk factors include age, tobacco and alcohol use, physical activity and other pre-existing health conditions.

Unfortunately we have no control over things like our age and genetics. But we can easily do something about the risk factors that are related to our lifestyle.

The first steps to living a heart healthy lifestyle involve making changes to the way we already live our day-to-day lives. If practiced regularly, these changes can reduce our risk of developing heart disease, helping us live a happier and healthier life. To help you get started, here are four simple heart healthy lifestyle changes you can make in your life today:

1. Read Nutrition Labels

One of the best weapons in combating heart disease is eating a healthy diet. Don’t worry - this doesn’t mean only eating rabbit food! You can still eat many of the foods you love. But it’s important to be more conscious about the items you are consuming. Reading nutrition labels will help you keep a close eye on the nutrients that are in your food. Heart healthy foods are generally low in fat, sugar and sodium. Is there a certain food you love that has a high composition of any of these? Try looking for the same products made to be “low” or “free” (i.e. low-fat, sugar free).

2. Get Moving

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day, at least 5 times a week. Cardiovascular exercise is any physical activity that gets your heart pumping, such as jogging, walking, dancing or even gardening and doing other yard work. Fitting physical activity into our busy schedules can sometimes be difficult, especially for those of us who work at a desk all day. Splitting up your exercise into 10 or 15 minute increments throughout the day can make it much more doable. Try taking a walk or your lunch break. Even leaving your desk every hour for a short walk around the office will increase your level of fitness.

3. Break Old Habits

Smoking by itself increases the risk for heart disease, but when paired with other risk factors the probability of developing heart disease becomes extremely high. Everyone, especially those who have a family history of heart disease, should consider quitting. We know that quitting can be a difficult process, but it’s also important to think about what’s at stake. Did you know that you can talk with your doctor to come up with a plan for quitting? You can also enlist the support of your family and friends to help you succeed.

Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for heart disease. Excessive alcohol use can raise the levels of fats in the blood, as well as increase blood pressure and overall calorie intake. While it’s not imperative to stop drinking completely, it’s important to avoid excessive and binge drinking in order to stay heart healthy.

4. Schedule Check-Ups

Even if you’ve never had a heart condition, it’s important to make annual check-ups with your primary care doctor to evaluate your heart health. Your physician will test your cholesterol, heart rate, blood pressure and weight in order to gauge how healthy your heart is. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have a family history of heart disease. Depending on your test results, your doctor may want to see you more often than annually. If you already have heart disease you may also require more frequent check-ups.

Making the proper lifestyle changes will not only improve your heart health, but your overall health and wellness. What creative ways do you use to stay heart healthy?

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