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Be smart about your heart with these four tips

Shanice Maxwell | 2/27/2013, 6:27 a.m.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women.

But this doesn’t have to continue.

Many factors contribute to increased risk of heart problems such as “high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use,” reports the Centers for Disease Control.

The good news is that heart disease, heart attacks and hypertension are all preventable.

Work your heart into tip-top shape with these four fit tips:

1. Fork up the fiber

Fig Newtons may come to mind when hearing the word fiber, but don’t go stocking your pantry with them.

The best sources of dietary fiber are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, says Maggie Dylewski, Ph.D., owner of MD Nutrition Consultants and clinical assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire.

“When it comes to your heart, one of the best things you can focus on is fiber.” she says.

It makes you full faster, can help with weight control, cut cholesterol, lower blood sugar and lots more. Take your pick when choosing high-fiber foods; the choices are endless. Some fulfilling places to start are corn, broccoli, pears, avocado, beans (kidney, black, garbanzo), raspberries, oatmeal and whole wheat pasta and/or bread.

2. Cut back on salt

Salt is your kryptonite if you want to achieve heart health and prevent its demise.

“Maintaining a good blood pressure is one of the primary things to do,” Dylewski says. “Limiting your sodium intake” will work wonders for that ticker of yours regardless of age. Stay away from sodium-rich foods like canned soups and frozen meals, she says.

Just as you might count calories or check sugar grams, the same must be done with salt. Its effects can be poisonous if not ingested with care.

“Sodium is all throughout the average food supply, unfortunately, but where you can, cut back on the salt,” Dylewski says.

3. Work up a sweat

Apply some good stress to your heart every day for improved cardiovascular performance. Get a little sweaty with or without going to the gym — your heart will thank you for it.

“Cardiovascular activities could be anything that got your heart rate up, such as the elliptical, running, walking fast, riding your bike,” Dylewski says. “If you can do 30 minutes a day that would be preferable, but [workouts] can be in increments of 10 minutes if that’s all you can provide yourself with.”

Exercise is an example of good stress the heart needs; it’s also a key preventative tool when it comes to its strength.

“The heavier someone is, the harder the heart has to work in order to pump blood throughout the body, and that’s putting extra stress on the heart,” Dylewski notes.

People who are overweight tend to have higher levels of cholesterol, meaning more plaque buildup in the heart’s arteries and an increased blood pressure, which contribute to added bad stress.

4. Forsake fried foods

Put the McRib down, avoid ordering from your favorite neighborhood sub or pizza shop and skip Chinese altogether.

Fried and fast foods can be hard to ignore when you’re bombarded with tantalizing commercials, ads and restaurants, but fighting the temptation is worth it.

“Foods high in trans and saturated fat are the main things you want to avoid,” Dylewski says. “You’re going to find this in fried foods, margarine, packaged snacks and red meat. I recommend people eat it in moderation and opt for leaner meats.”

Complete your healthy heart regimen by giving up the cigarettes if you’re a smoker. Dylewski encourages taking measures to kick the habit because “[it] has huge links to heart disease.”