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Get smart about heart disease

Heart disease and stroke are the greatest health threats to women of all ethnic backgrounds, but only 21 percent realize it. Consider these facts:

¥ Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 3 killers of women over age 25.

¥ One in three adult women in the United States currently suffers from some form of cardiovascular disease.

¥ Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including stroke, claims nearly twice as many women's lives as all forms of cancer.

¥ One in 2.6 women die of heart disease, stroke and other CVDs, compared with one in 30 from breast cancer.

¥ 64 percent of women who died suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.

Your heart is in your hands

Only you can love your heart. There are some risk factors for heart disease you can control:

¥ High blood pressure: This condition can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.

¥ Smoking: If you smoke, your risk of developing coronary heart disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers.

¥ High cholesterol: The higher your total blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of coronary heart disease.

¥ Physical inactivity: Lack of physical activity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.

¥ Obesity or overweight: If you have excess body fat -- especially at the waist -- you're more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.

¥ Diabetes: Having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, especially if your blood sugar is not controlled. There are other risk factors to be aware of; talk to your doctor about how your age, race and heredity may affect your risk for heart disease.

Five simple ways to love your heart

It's not hard to reduce your risk for heart disease. Start today with small, simple actions like these:

1. Celebrate with a checkup. Let each birthday remind you that it's time for your yearly checkup and a talk with your doctor about how you can reduce your risk for heart disease.

2. Get up of the couch. Step, march or jog in place for at least 30 minutes most days of the week -- you can even do it while watching TV.

3. Quit smoking.

4. Drop a pound or two. There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, so to lose 1-2 pounds you need to cut 500-1,000 calories a day through either diet and/or physical activity.

5. Become a salt detective. Check out the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods to see how much sodium (salt) they contain. Aim for a total intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams (about a teaspoon of salt) per day.

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