Take Action for Heart Health

Americans’ hearts are at risk; here’s what you can do to keep your ticker humming.

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Lastly, BMI (body mass index) should be 25 or less. Higher and you're in the overweight to obese category. Achieving a normal body weight affects virtually everything else—lowering blood pressure, increasing HDL, combating inflammation, and lowering a risk for diabetes, notes Nathan Wong, director of the University California, Irvine's Heart Disease Prevention Program. Be true to yourself with your actual numbers. If they are askew, contact your physician.

Eat well-balanced meals and whole foods. Gillinov recommends the varied Mediterranean diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, as there is strong evidence it reduces the risk for heart disease. "We know fish-oil intake from two meals a week of fatty fish has been associated with a lower risk for developing cardiovascular disease," says Wong.

[See: Mediterranean Diet—What You Need to Know]

Exercise! Have fun, start small, and be creative. Take the stairs, park farther in the lot and walk, enjoy a bike ride or brisk walk to add more activity to your everyday life. Wong says he encourages people to exercise at least five times a week, which doesn't need to be strenuous.

Manage stress. Network with friends and neighbors. Call a friend, take a walk in your neighborhood, exercise, and do an enjoyable activity. Studies show that depression, anger, hostility, and low social support are linked to an increased risk for heart disease, says Wong.