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Heart disease has developed quite the reputation, but not for anything good. of course. When you think of heart disease, what comes to mind? That it’s the number one killer of both men and women, or maybe that it’s something that you only have to worry about when you’re older.

Despite all of its negative qualities, there is one good thing about heart disease—you actually have the power to prevent it. “Before you assume that it’s too late, or that you’re doomed to have heart disease, evidence has shown that healthy lifestyle changes at any stage of life can help to reverse and prevent damage,” says Jim John, MD, a cardiologist with Gwinnett Consultants in Cardiology, a part of Gwinnett Medical Group.

Don’t Overlook the Small Stuff
The good news is making heart-healthy life style changes doesn’t mean you have to dramatically change everything. It means starting to make small choices that add up over time. “In fact, major lifestyle changes, especially health fads, rarely have a lasting impact, as they invariably become hard to maintain and people fall off the wagon,” says Dr. John. “Instead, I encourage my patients to make small changes that accumulate in big ways.”

Stop Smoking—seriously.
“One of the most important things you can do when planning to quit is to focus on all of the benefits you’ll gain starting the moment you put out your last cigarette,” emphasizes Dr. John. Within a few minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure will both start to return to normal levels. Within one year, your risk of heart disease and heart attack will be reduced by 50 percent.

GMCFeb220Find your healthy weight.
There is certainly no one-size-fits-all when it comes to shape, size or weight. Despite the common notion that a healthy weight can only be measured by a scale, there are many other factors to consider. It’s important to note, though, that if you are overweight; losing just 10 percent of your body weight will have a tremendous impact on your heart health. “You can expect your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to be lower, as well as your risk for clots and heart disease,” explains Dr. John.

Eat good, feel better.
It’s important to note that cutting out unhealthy foods is just as important as adding in nutritious ones. “Foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar all take a toll on heart health,” says Dr. John. So, if one of your favorite weekly meals is a fast-food burger, you’re likely consuming between 85-175 milligrams of cholesterol in one sitting. (The recommended daily amount is only 200-300 milligrams.)

Work your body.
Regular exercise that raises your heart rate not only helps to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, it can actually change the way your heart works. “Overtime, your left ventricle will adapt to provide more blood per burst, which will lower your resting heart rate,” explains Dr. John. “It will also stimulate new blood vessels to form, which promotes better circulation.” Take time off. Feeling stressed, anxious and tired has become a part of the daily reality for most people. These feelings not only take a toll on mental health, they also have a surprising impact on physical health, too. Over time, stress can increase cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. It can even promote the buildup of plaque in arteries throughout the body.

With such a tremendous physical impact, there is only solution when it comes to stress—relaxation. Whether it’s reading, spending time in nature, getting a massage or taking a vacation, you need to find a way to relieve and release your stress. Your heart will thank you for it. Your heart health is our priority.

GMG’s Gwinnett Consultants in Cardiology, offers extensive resources, the latest in treatment and prevention options and a dedicated team of specialists. To find a cardiologist near you, visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/cardiologist.

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