There are two things you can't change about your risk for heart disease: your family history and your age. Fortunately, 80% of heart attacks and strokes result from factors you can change. And women's hearts tend to respond a lot better to lifestyle tweaks than men's do. You can break these three bad habits and add years to your life.
1. Stop smoking. Women smokers have heart attacks, on average, about 19 years earlier than non-smokers. Once you quit you slash your heart disease risk in half. Within seven years, it's as if you never lit up.
Dr. Oz says: You have a much better chance of quitting for good if you use a program, like the free Kick the Habit Challenge (members.doctoroz.com/challenge/kick-the-habit-challenge), than if you go cold turkey. This challenge starts a month before your quit date with a walking plan to help prevent weight gain. And don't get discouraged if you don't make it the first time around. It usually takes five tries before you finally quit for good.
2. Tweak your diet. Women whose diets are high in carbs that quickly raise blood sugar (white bread, white rice, soda, crackers), have double the heart disease risk of women who seldom eat those foods.
Dr. Oz says: Focus on adding more produce, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins to your diet, and cutting back on processed items. When it comes to carbs, reach for breads, pastas, and cereals that are made with whole wheat or other whole grains. Instead of white rice, use brown rice. Mash up yams, squashes, or turnips instead of potatoes. Satisfy cravings for sweets with fruit. Replace at least one can of regular soda a day with a glass of water.
3. Get moving. Seventy percent of Americans aren't as physically active as they should be. For women, being sedentary and overweight is just like smoking—it doubles the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Oz says: Walking briskly for 30 minutes a day lowers your risk for heart disease by 35%. And always be on the lookout for other ways to get more activity into your daily routine: Try making phone calls on your cell while you walk around your house or your neighborhood. Get a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps every day, and don't stop moving until you reach that goal.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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