Turn on your heart 'lite' 10 lifestyle suggestions to help get you into better cardiac shape

URBANA – When Dr. Ken Bodine was undergoing his medical training in the 1980s, it was rare to find a young adult with heart disease, he recalls.

Now the Carle Clinic cardiologist is seeing more heart patients in their 30s, sometimes even in their 20s, he says.

And for many, heart trouble is the consequence of poor lifestyle choices when they were younger – things like smoking, failing to exercise and not eating right – that left them at risk for cardiovascular disease.

"The most important thing is your lifestyle," Bodine says.

Some new data released by the American Heart Association suggests just how important:

– Nearly 37 percent of U.S. adults have cardiovascular disease; about one-third have high blood pressure, and nearly 47 percent have unhealthy cholesterol levels.

– Some 66 percent of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

– Nearly 10 million U.S. children and adolescents are overweight – and they stand a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults.

The risk of becoming an overweight adult rises to 80 percent for children with overweight parents.

In just one decade, between 1996 and 2006, the annual number of inpatient cardiovascular procedures done in the U.S. rose 33 percent to 7.2 million.

Add up all the health care, medicine and lost work time, and the cost of treating cardiovascular disease in the U.S. is projected to run $316.4 billion this year.

If Bodine could get everybody to pay attention to just one thing, it would be this: We can't choose our age or our family heart history, but we can make lifestyle choices that reduce our other risks of cardiovascular disease or dying of a heart attack.

"It is in our control," he urges. "As an individual, even as a society, you can modify this a lot."

Want to start modifying your risk right now? Here are 10 suggestions to take to heart:

Pack your lunch

Restaurant lunches are often a lot more food than anyone needs for one meal, and can be full of surprises.

Example: One serving of Garden-Fresh salad at Olive Garden (with dressing and croutons) contains 350 calories and 26 grams of fat, with 50 of those calories coming from the croutons, according to the chain's Web site. And at 1,930 mg. of sodium per serving, it's already well into the range recommended for healthy adults for the whole day, 1,500 to 2,400 mg.

Packing your own lunch puts YOU in charge of what – and how much – you eat.

And on those occasions you do dine out, consider checking restaurant Web sites in advance for nutrition information, so you can order wisely. One serving of minestrone at Olive Garden, for example, contains 100 calories and one gram of fat, and you can add a bread stick for another 150 calories and 2 grams of fat.

Don't judge your heart by what you see in the mirror

"Normal weight obesity" is a growing concern in the U.S. More than half of American adults who have a normal body weight have high body fat percentages, exceeding 20 percent for men and 30 percent for women, along with heart and metabolic disturbances, Mayo Clinic research found in 2008.

So don't try to judge your risk for heart problems by how well you fit into your jeans. Smokers can be thin, Bodine points out. People at normal weights can have high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The only way to know whether you are really at risk is to be familiar with your family health history, pay attention to other known heart risk factors (obesity, inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cigarette smoking and age – 45 and older for men and 55 and older for women) and undergo the screenings recommended by your doctor.

Don't ignore your cholesterol

Fewer than half of people at risk for coronary heart disease, even those at the highest risk, take lipid-lowering medications, according to the American Heart Association. And only about one-third of those people who are being treated for unhealthy lipid profiles are achieving their goals of lowering their LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Calm down

Can feeling angry and hostile make your heart sick? Research published in March 2009 in the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology" says it can, especially for men.

Researchers found anger and hostility are significantly associated with both a higher risk for coronary heart disease in healthy people and poorer outcomes in patients with existing heart disease.

Take the stairs

Some 59 percent of U.S. adults don't do any vigorous physical exercise, significantly upping their risk for heart problems, according to the American Heart Association.

Bodine suggests 30 minutes of exercise a day and an hour would be better, he says. Something that disturbs him: Seeing people smoking on a street corner near the Carle campus (where smoking is forbidden) when he goes out for a run.

Give your workplace a heart health makeover

Here are some suggestions from Cindy Magsamen, coordinator of the HeartAware program at Provena Covenant Medical Center:

– Discourage unhealthful snacks in the break room and encourage healthful ones.

– Take walking breaks, not smoking breaks. If the weather is nice, get outside and move around for those 10 or 15 minutes.

– Participate in workplace wellness programs.

– Ask your company if one bulletin board can be devoted to wellness, and change the topics monthly.

– Find yourself a health buddy at work. "They say a healthy heart loves company," Magsamen says.

Don't be in that 20 percent

Smoking remains the top cause of preventable death and disease, but 20 percent of adults and 20 percent of high school students smoke, according to the American Lung Association. Every puff ups the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory disease.

Shop wisely

A healthy heart results, partly, from what we buy at the grocery store.

Experts advise shopping the perimeter of grocery stores, where the fresh, unprocessed foods tend to be, and giving those high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt processed foods in the middle a pass.

When you do venture into the middle, read the food labels for ingredients and nutritional information before placing items into your cart. Ingredients are listed in order of their weight.

And watch those serving sizes on the labels, especially in beverages. Often a bottled beverage contains two servings, Magsamen says – but who drinks only half the bottle?

Eat dinner together as a family – never in front of the TV

It's not just that eating while we watch TV leads to mindless eating and about zero family interaction.

When we eat a family meal together on a regular basis, we're more likely to plan a healthful meal in advance, talk to each other more and eat slowly enough for our stomachs to know when they're full before we eat too much. We might even put the fork down between bites, Magsamen says.

Be a role model

If you want your kids to be healthy, show them how YOU do it.

"Kids are going to follow what their parents are doing, and if parents make healthy choices at home, the kids are more apt to make those healthy choices at home and away from home," Magsamen says.

One of her tips for busy parents: Organize yourself and your family for exercise and healthful meals the night before. That includes packing lunches and workout clothes for the next day.

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