Did you know that more than 41 million women in America have heart disease? And that more women than men will die from it? In fact, it's the leading health problem that kills women (not cancer-a common myth).
But the good news is that just five lifestyle guidelines-moderate alcohol, a healthy diet, daily exercise, normal body weight, and not smoking-can cut your heart attack risk by a whopping 92%, according to a Swedish study of more than 24,000 women. Incorporating just the first two into your routine cuts your risk by more than half.
The seven tips that follow are designed to help you get started. Try one a day for a week, and then stick with as many as you can for the long haul.
Day 1: Drink Green Tea
This potent beverage contains several powerful antioxidants that reduce cholesterol and may even lower blood pressure. To make a day's supply, bring 20 ounces of water to a boil, drop in three decaffeinated green tea bags, cover, and steep for 10 minutes. Remove the tea bags, and refrigerate the tea. When cool, pour the tea into a container, add ice if you like, and sip throughout the day.
Day 2: Scan Food Labels for Unhealthy Fat
Adults who read food labels and nutrition facts slash twice as many calories from fat as those who don't give labels a look, according to one study. When it comes to heart health, that's important: Don't let fat exceed 30% of your calories. And more important, make most of your fat the healthy monounsaturated (from olive oil, nuts, dark chocolate, avocado) and polyunsaturated (from salmon, flaxseed, walnuts) kinds.
Limit saturated fat intake to 7% of your total calories (for a 1,600-calorie diet, that's about 12 g a day). And avoid trans fats whenever possible; they should comprise 1% of your daily calories, or less than 2 g a day. (Look for hydrogenated on ingredient lists; trans fats are most often found in cookies, crackers, baked goods, and other processed foods.) Both of these fats raise levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.
Day 3: Cook Like an Italian
Use MUFA-rich olive oil in your food prep whenever possible. The heart-healthy fat lowers "bad" LDL cholesterol and raises "good" HDL cholesterol. Bonus: Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, like Alzheimer's.
Substitute olive oil for butter or margarine at the dinner table, drizzle it on salads, and use it to replace vegetable oils in baking wherever possible. Buy only cold-pressed, extra virgin oil; it retains more of the olive's heart-healthy antioxidants than other forms.
Day 4: Carve Out Time for Sleep
Every extra hour of sleep middle-aged adults can add to their nightly average reduces their risk of coronary artery calcification, a cause of heart disease, by 33%, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. When you're even a little sleep deprived, your body releases stress hormones that constrict arteries and cause inflammation.
If you routinely wake up feeling tired or need an afternoon nap, then you're probably sleep deprived. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours a night to function well.
Day 5: Fiber Up Your Diet
Studies show that the more fiber you eat, the less likely you are to have a heart attack. Load up on whole grain breads and cereals that contain whole wheat, wheat bran, and oats. Toss beans into casseroles, soups, and salads. Aim for at least 25 to 35 g of fiber a day.
Day 6: Feast on Fish
Meat's saturated fat will clog your arteries. On the other hand, fish such as salmon and anchovies are loaded with the omega-3 fatty acids that will help your heart maintain a steady rhythm. Having even one serving a week of fish high in omega-3s could reduce your risk of death from a heart attack by 52%!
Day 7: Start Your Morning with Juice
Orange juice contains folic acid that helps lower your levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to a higher heart attack risk. Grape juice is loaded with flavonoids and resveratrol, both potent antioxidants that may discourage red blood cells from clumping together and forming an artery-blocking clot. Choose 100% fruit juices to limit excess sugar.
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