Even if heart disease runs in your family, getting it is not inevitable. There are many steps you can take to minimize your risk and live a long, healthy life, from making smart food choices to bumping up your exercise. So ditch the excuses, and check out this list:

  • Burn as many calories as you take in. It's the bottom-line rule of weight maintenance. If you eat heavily one day, try to compensate by engaging in vigorous exercise. If you just can't get moving, lower your calorie intake to prevent piling on the pounds. Excess weight is no good for your heart. Don't like the gym? Make chores count. Vacuum vigorously, dance as you dust, wash the car by hand, and bicycle to the grocery store.
  • Cast a wide net nutritionally. Don't eat from just one or two food groups. For optimal health, indulge in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean protein every day. Go for a plate filled with foods of different hues-a leafy green salad topped with crisp red pepper, tender purple eggplant, and juicy orange slices is guaranteed to be more nutritious than a plain pile of iceberg lettuce.
  • Nix the cigarettes. According to the American Heart Association, smoking causes almost 440,000 preventable deaths each year, with atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty acids in the arteries, a prime contributor. Smoking raises your blood pressure, decreases your tolerance for exercise, and increases your risk of stroke. And even if you don't light up yourself, be wary of passive or secondhand smoke—it's dangerous, too. For best heart health, keep cigarettes out of your airspace however you can.
  • Get up and walk. It's easy, it's fun, and it's sociable, not to mention a great stress reliever. As little as 30 minutes a day helps prevent coronary disease and high blood pressure. Need more motivation? Get a dog. Nothing will coax you out of bed faster than a pet who's raring to go.
  • Speak up. Do you want that chicken dish but think it might be cooked in a vat of butter? Ask your server how it's prepared and if it can possibly be made with heart-healthy oil instead. Request that food be steamed instead of fried. Before booking a hotel, find out if there's a fitness center or walking trail nearby. Is a weekly lunch date with friends at the local burger joint wrecking your eating? Ask if they would mind trying out the new salad bar nearby instead. Or suggest meeting for a walk instead of a meal.