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Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

Deer Valley Hospital
19829 N. 27th Ave.
Phoenix, Arizona 85027
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North Mountain Hospital
250 E. Dunlap Ave.
Phoenix, Arizona 85020
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» Request a referral to a John C. Lincoln cardiac specialist.

By eliminating risk factors within your control — maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar levels — you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and prevent fatty substances (plaque) from blocking blood flow to the heart.

Heart health begins with having the right information. Top tips for keeping your heart in healthier shape include:

Not Smoking

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable, premature death in the U.S. It accounts for about one-fifth of all deaths from heart disease in the United States. Simply put, there is nothing "safe" about smoking. For any smoker of any age, quitting smoking can have an immediate and lasting benefit.

Within one year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease declines by about 50%, compared with nonsmokers. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is the same as people who have never smoked.

To learn more about quitting smoking in Arizona, visit the Arizona Smokers Helpline, which offers smoking-cessation services by phone and online.

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Flossing

Believe it or not, the health of your gums can have a direct impact on your heart's health. Flossing is the leading means to prevent gum disease, or periodontal disease — a bacterial infection that destroys gum tissue and surrounding bone.

Gum disease and heart disease share one characteristic: chronic inflammation. As harmful irritants enter the bloodstream (whether bacteria or fats), the body's immune system retaliates by producing germ-fighting cells and proteins (such as C-reactive protein).

The persistence of these inflammatory chemicals in the bloodstream may make blood vessels more vulnerable to plaque build-up, as well as affect insulin resistance, blood clot formation and brain cell activity. Oral bacteria can travel through the bloodstream to colonize tissue elsewhere in the body.

Learn more about the "perio-cardio connection" on the American Academy of Periodontology's web site.

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Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese can contribute to health problems that lead to heart disease, such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

One measurement of appropriate weight is the body mass index (BMI), which calculates body fat based on height and weight. A score of 25 or higher is considered overweight; a score of 30 or more is obese.

To check your body mass index, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's online BMI calculator.

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Moderate Exercise

Exercising moderately for 30 minutes per day can help regulate blood pressure, blood sugar and blood fats. Likewise, it can reduce the risk of cancers and diabetes.

Walking is a simple, no-cost way to get the heart pumping. Creative ways to work walking into your day include parking far away from store entrances when you shop; taking a daily "walk break" at the workplace; or walking to accomplish errands, instead of driving.

To explore a new approach to walking, visit startwalkingnow.org, a free online community provided by the American Heart Association. Through this site, members can find walking buddies, create personalized walking paths, design weekly walking plans and track daily activities.

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Nutrition and Portion Control

Restaurants are often guilty of "portion distortion": placing too much food on diners' plates. Yet, when you cook at home, you can ensure you're eating the right foods in the right amounts. Not eating in front of the TV, and waiting 10 minutes for heading back for second helpings, can help, as well.

Remember, what you eat is just as important as how much you eat. A healthy diet is one that's low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains can keep your weight in check, reduce your blood fat and cholesterol levels and improve your insulin resistance.

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Controlling Stress and Depression

Mood plays a tremendous role in heart health. When we're angry, our bodies rise to the occasion by releasing epinephrine, making the heart beat faster. Under stress, the body secretes cortisol, a hormone that raises blood pressure and causes the body to retain fluids. Likewise, depression is thought to elevate the risk of heart disease indirectly by fostering unhealthy behaviors including physical activity and smoking.

Many strategies are available to help manage our moods, including exercise, meditation and yoga. Further, seeking the support of a mental health professional can help with screening for depression and exploring treatment options.

Visit MedlinePlus, a U.S. National Library of Medicine website, for more on managing stress and coping with depression.

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