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Tips from the American Heart Association

Making healthy changes to reduce your risk of heart disease doesn't have to be overwhelming. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests focusing on "Life's Simple 7." These 7 tips are the most important steps you can take to help prevent heart disease and stroke, says Wayne S. Hwang, MD, a cardiologist with the AHA and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Get active. Being sedentary raises your heart disease risk. Aim to get 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week. Walking, jogging, swimming, or bicycling are all good choices.

Control your cholesterol. Eating too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in your blood. Trade foods high in saturated fats, like red meat and dairy, for healthy sources of fat like nuts or olive oil. These foods promote healthier cholesterol levels.

Eat better. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. And limit empty calories from snack foods or sugary drinks.

Manage your blood pressure. Eating a heart-healthy diet and limiting your salt and alcohol intake are two key steps. It's also important to take your blood pressure drugs as prescribed.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese raises many of your heart disease risk factors. But losing just 3 to 5 percent of your body weight is enough to put those problems in reverse.

Reduce blood sugar. Having diabetes raises your risk for heart disease. But eating right and exercising can both help keep your blood sugar in check. You should also take your diabetes drugs as prescribed.

Stop smoking. Smoking hurts your arteries and makes it harder to be active. So quit as soon as you can. Your body will begin to reap the benefits almost immediately. And you'll lower your heart disease and stroke risk within just a few years.

Remember, you don't have to do everything at once. Just focus on one thing at a time, recommends Dr. Hwang. Use the AHA's My Life Check tool to track your progress at

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