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Best Heart-Healthy Tips

Clyde Yancy, M.D., president of the American Heart Association, shares the simple secrets for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and achieving heart health.

By Allison Baker

How to Lower Your Cholesterol
Dr. Clyde Yancy with daughters Nina and Kristin
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Diane McCormick/McCardinal Photo

Know Your Stats See your doctor to find out if your cholesterol is in the healthy range—less than 200 mg/dL. Your LDLs (the harmful cholesterol) should ideally be less than 100 mg/dL, while your HDLs (the "good" type) should be more than 60 mg/dL. Also evaluate your eating and exercise habits. Take a free heart-health assessment at heart.org/mylifecheck.com.

Get Moving People who begin a new exercise routine increase their HDLs. Every little bit helps—walking just two hours a week can improve cholesterol.

Watch the Fats If you consume about 2,000 calories a day, you should limit your total fat intake to 50 to 70 grams. But not all types are created equal. Reduce saturated fats in your diet to less than 16g per day and eliminate trans fats altogether. Concentrate on eating foods with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, like fish, nuts, and vegetable oil.

How to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Nearly one-third of Americans have high or borderline blood pressure, but it's possible to beat it without medication. Through a combination of diet, exercise, and weight loss you can lower your blood pressure by as much as 10 to 14 mmHg overall, says Dr. Yancy. Here are his other must-follow tips:

Get Checked After age 35, you should have your blood pressure taken every year. Anything above 140/90 is high, but you should consider making lifestyle changes if your stats are over 120/80, as that signifies prehypertension.

Pass on the Salt Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure. The average American consumes about 4,000mg per day, but you should limit intake to 1,500mg. Don't add salt when cooking and try to avoid processed foods (one can of prepared soup can contain 600 to 800mg).

Start Walking Aerobic exercise makes blood vessels more flexible. A brisk 30-minute walk five days a week can lower blood pressure by about 5 mmHg. Walking off the weight helps too—lose 22 pounds and you can knock off an average of 8 mmHg, which is on par with taking medication.

How to Lower Your BMI

About half of Americans are considered overweight or obese based on their body mass index (BMI), says Dr. Yancy. BMI is an important indicator of heart health because extra weight can raise blood pressure and cholesterol. Dr. Yancy's tips for lowering yours:

Know the Numbers You can calculate BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. Or simply go to the BMI calculator at americanheart.org/bmi.

Change Your Diet Eat 3 to 4 servings of both fruits and veggies a day. Aim for 2 to 3 servings of fish per week and 2 to 3 servings of whole grains a day. Reduce daily fat intake to fewer than 70 grams. Limit sugar-sweetened drinks to 100 calories a day.

Walk It Off Exercise helps you slim down and is the best way to maintain a healthy BMI. Find a walking route in your neighborhood and grab a pair of sneakers. Even if you're crunched for time, sneak in a workout in the morning or on your lunch break.

Originally published in the May 2010 and June 2010 issues of Family Circle magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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