5 Resolutions for a Healthy Heart

Heart disease may be the leading cause of death for both men and women, but there are many things you can do now to avoid heart disease. And what better time than the beginning of the New Year to put prevention steps in effect?

Here are five things you can do to ensure a heart-healthy New Year.

1. Don't smoke or use tobacco products.

According to the Mayo Clinic, tobacco smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals, many of which can damage your heart and blood vessels, making you vulnerable to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can lead to a heart attack. Plus, the nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.

The good news for smokers is once you quit, your risk of heart disease goes down substantially within just one year.

2. Eat a heart-healthy diet.

Following a diet low in fat, cholesterol and salt and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lowfat dairy products can help you stave off heart disease. Eating legumes, low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish, especially fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, can also reduce your risk of heart disease.

Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one a day for women, can also be heart protective.

3. Get regular exercise.

Maintaining a regular exercise routine of at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week, can help you reduce your risk of fatal heart disease and help you control your weight.

4. Maintain a healthy weight.

Weight gain as you get older is mostly fat rather than muscle and that excess weight can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Even losing a few pounds can make a big difference in your heart health. Reducing your weight by just ten percent can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.

5. Get regular health screenings.

Heart disease is preventable. Maintaining regular health screenings to check for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can damage your heart and blood vessels, lets you know what your numbers are and whether you need to take action. To stay healthy, have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury. You should have your cholesterol measured at least every five years or more frequently if your numbers aren't within the desired range-less than 200 mg/dL-or if you have other risk factors for heart disease.