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Preventing Heart Disease and Stroke

Centers for Disease Control | 2/13/2012, 12:40 p.m.

Heart disease and stroke are an epidemic in the United States today. Many of the people who are at high risk for heart attack or stroke don't know it. The good news is that many of the major risk factors for these conditions can be prevented and controlled. Talking to your doctor about your heart health and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked are important first steps to reduce your risk.

Many other lifestyle choices--including eating healthy, exercising regularly, and following your doctor's instructions about your medications--can all help protect your heart and brain health:

Share your health history, get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and ask if taking an aspirin each day is right for you.

Control Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. One in 3 U.S. adults has high blood pressure, and half of these individuals do not have their condition under control.

Similarly, high cholesterol affects 1 in 3 American adults, and two-thirds of these individuals do not have the condition under control. Half of adults with high cholesterol do not get treatment.

If your blood pressure or cholesterol is high, take steps to lower it. This could include eating a healthier diet, getting more exercise, and following your doctor's instructions about medications you take.

Eat Healthy for Your Heart

What you eat has a big impact on your heart health. When planning your meals and snacks, try to:

* Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

* Check the labels on your food and select those with the lowest sodium. Too much sodium can increase your blood pressure.

* Limit foods with high amounts of saturated fat, transfat, and cholesterol. You can find this information on the Nutrition Facts label.

* Cook at home more often. Whenever possible, select foods that are low in sodium or have no salt added. Limit sauces, mixes, and "instant" products, including flavored rice and ready-made pasta.

Get Moving

Obesity can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. To keep your body at a healthy weight and to fight high blood pressure and cholesterol, make physical activity part of your daily routine. Try to fit in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. For example, you could take a brisk 10-minute walk 3 times a day, 5 days a week.

Quit Smoking

Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you're a smoker, quit as soon as possible, and if you don't smoke, don't start. You can also support smoke-free policies in your community and try to avoid secondhand smoke.