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Healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent heart disease. Even coronary heart disease, a common form in which the coronary arteries that take blood to the heart become narrower or blocked when cholesterol and fatty material called plaque build up in them, slowing the flow of blood. This can lead to chest pain or a heart attack.

You are at higher risk of heart disease if you are a woman over the age of 55; a man over 45; your father or brother had heart disease before 55; or your mother or sister had heart disease before 65.

As you get older, the risk increases. Here’s what you can do to try and prevent it:

u Reduce the use of salt. Instead, use spices to season food. Opt for sodium-free dressings. Avoid using soy sauce, which is high in sodium. If you must use soy, opt for a version that has less sodium content. Try different seasonings instead of salt to flavour your food—herbs, spices, or salt-free seasoning blends. Adding garlic, onions, black pepper, lemons and limes can help you reduce the use of salt. Ideally, an adult should not consume more than 1,500mg of salt per day, according to the American Heart Association.

u Remember that a sedentary lifestyle is inviting trouble. Get up and get moving. Start with 30 minutes of walk, five days a week, if you are not used to any other form of exercise. If you feel giddy, dizzy, break into a cold sweat, or have an uneven pulse rate, consult the doctor.

u Watch your weight and your waist—this is particularly important for women. Be wary of visceral fat—fat that is wrapped around internal organs such as the abdomen. According to research, middle-aged women who carry more visceral fat could be at higher risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes a constellation of symptoms, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and insulin resistance, all leading to a higher risk of heart disease.

u Losing weight can make a difference and dramatically reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease.

u Quit smoking and stay away from second-hand smoke. The nicotine in cigarettes reduces the amount of oxygen your heart gets and raises blood pressure. Smoking can increase the risk of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. And this effect is not restricted just to the heart; every organ and blood vessel can be affected.

u High cholesterol tends to run in families. The main reason for high cholesterol levels is fatty food. So make sure that no more than 30% of your total daily calories come from fat. This is about 66g of fat for an adult.

Second, no more than 8-10% of total daily calories should be from saturated fat. This is about 18g of fat for an adult. Third, no more than 300mg of cholesterol should be consumed in a day. For instance, since an egg has about 300mg of cholesterol, you shouldn’t have more than one egg a day.

u Cut back on alcohol consumption. High alcohol consumption can lead to cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscles. Binge-drinking can cause irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmia.

u Try and keep stress at arm’s length, for it may affect behaviour and factors that increase the risk of heart disease. Some people, for instance, may drink too much alcohol or smoke to “manage" chronic stress.

Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.

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