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Editorial: For Heart Health Month, make your heart young again

You’ve probably heard the saying “young at heart,” which means a person who has a youthful outlook, often in spite of their age. But when it comes to heart health, the opposite is true for many Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as three out of four U.S. adults have a “heart age” that is older than their actual age, putting them at a higher risk for heart attacks and stroke. On average, American adults have hearts that are seven years older than they should be, the CDC says.

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Heart age is determined by weighing risk factors for heart attack and stroke. While some of those factors such as family history and your actual age cannot be changed, many of them are controllable. If you smoke or have an unhealthy diet, your heart and blood vessel will be “older” and, thus, you’re at a higher risk.

For example, if you’re a 45-year-old man who is a healthy weight but smokes, is diabetic and has high blood pressure, you’re heart age is closer to 75. A 50-year-old woman who is obese, is diabetic and has high blood pressure but doesn’t smoke could have a heart age closer to 85, according to the CDC.

You can calculate your own heart age based on risk factors by visiting www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heartage.htm.

While there is no fountain of youth, you can make your heart “younger” at any age by changing a few lifestyle habits.

February is Heart Health Month, making now a great time to think about the things you can change to improve your own heart health.

If you’re a smoker, quitting is the best thing you can do to improve the health of your heart, as well as your lungs and your overall well-being. While most people know how smoking affects your lungs, you might not realize smoking also damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build-up of fatty material which narrows the artery, leading to angina, heart attack or stroke.

Modifying your diet can also help improve heart health. Trans fats, which are often used in packaged foods and fried fast foods, clog your arteries by raising bad cholesterol levels and reducing good cholesterol. Cutting trans fats from your diet will improve blood flow and reduce your risk of heart disease. Check food packaging labels to ensure they contain 0 percent trans fat. These may also appear in the ingredients list as partially hydrogenated oils.

Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet will also help. It can be difficult to make wholesale changes overnight, so start with a few simple ones that can help change your habits. When you want a mid-day snack, eat a piece of fruit or some carrot sticks instead of heading to the vending machine. Replace sugary drinks with water. Instead of eating a cold cereal that is high in carbs for breakfast, make an egg. A few small changes will go a long way.

Getting more physical activity can also make your heart younger. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to start running marathons; using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or getting up from your desk to take a quick walk around the office a few times a day can help.

These small steps can all add up toward big improvements for your health and maybe help you feel a bit more young at heart.

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