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February is American Heart Month.  This is the perfect time to evaluate if you are making a concerted effort to protect your heart.  Cardiovascular diseases include coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and angina or chest pain.  Heart disease is the main form of cardiovascular disease and accounts for almost 35 percent of deaths.  It is the leading cause of death in both men and women.  While managing your weight by participating in a weight-loss program is usually noted as a key factor in the prevention of heart disease and certainly reduces your overall risk, there are several other preventative steps to take.

Know Your Risk: Knowing your risk is vital.  This goes beyond acknowledging genetics.  Yes, your risk for heart disease is much greater if you have had close family relatives affected by heart disease.  It is also important to note that your risk increases with age.  Take responsibility for your health by making sure you are getting yearly checkups, monitoring cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

Do Not Smoke: Repeat, do not smoke!  Smoking substantially increases your risk of getting heart disease.  The chemicals in tobacco are harmful to your blood cells and can damage the structure and function of your heart.  It can also cause plaque to build up in the heart.  For those who already do not smoke, be sure to avoid second-hand smoke, as it has the same effect.

Properly Manage Stress: Stress, especially when severe, can negatively impact your overall health.  It also increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.  Many times, the impacts of stress are sudden and unexpected.  This is why it is so important to properly manage your stress.  Healthy behavior, such as exercising, getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly, or laughing and helping others, are all ways to manage stress.  If you are constantly in high-stress situations, consider using aromatherapy, painting, going on nature walks, or even journaling to help you relieve stress.  The important thing is that you find what helps you and make time to do it.

Eat Heart-Friendly Foods: If you are reading this, you are most likely part of a weight-loss program.  The basic foundation in any long-term weight-loss program involves choosing whole foods that are natural and plant-based while avoiding foods that are processed and contain a high amount of artificial trans fats.  While exercising is very important, what you eat is vital in how well your body functions.


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