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Healthy New Year!
What resolutions did you vow to keep in 2004? Did you succeed? Start 2005 with healthy resolutions by modifying your heart disease risk factors. You could live a longer, stronger life.

“Some heart disease risk factors are uncontrollable, like increasing age, male gender, heredity and race. But, there are several lifestyle factors you can change,” says Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiologist Dr. Tim Wells.

Consider these New Year’s resolutions for a healthy heart:

I will not smoke
If you smoke, your risk of heart attack is more than twice that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking also is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death.

I will exercise regularly
Regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise is an important element in preventing heart and blood vessel disease. Consistent exercise can help control other risk factors: blood cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. The more intense your exercise, the more you benefit. Before embarking on a new routine you may want to discuss any changes with your physician.

I will maintain a healthy weight
If you struggle with excess body fat, you may be at increased risk for heart disease. Your physician can help develop a safe, effective weight control plan using a combination of diet and exercise appropriate for your height, age and body structure. Maintaining a healthy weight is equally important.

I will lower my blood cholesterol level
As blood cholesterol levels increase, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. Pair this with high blood pressure or smoking, and your risk increases much more. Some people, for genetic reasons, are at a higher risk for arterial disease due to their cholesterol. To find out what’s best for you, have your cholesterol checked and talk about the results with your doctor. Cholesterol can be managed through diet, exercise and/or medication.

I will lower my blood pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to enlarge and weaken over time. The risk of a heart attack increases if you have high blood pressure and other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol or diabetes. Set the goal of maintaining a blood pressure level lower than 140 over 90. Lower blood pressure is advised if you have known heart, vascular or kidney disease.

Once blood pressure is under control, regular evaluations are recommended every three to six months.

I will monitor and control my diabetes
Diabetes seriously increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Two-thirds of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it is important that you monitor and control any other risk factors you also may have.

I will lower my alcohol consumption
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. A limit of one to two drinks a day is advised. Drinking too much can raise your blood pressure and your caloric intake, which puts you at higher risk of obesity, diabetes and heart failure.

Most risk factors are connected. One can lead to another. “If you are dealing with any or all of these risk factors, do not lose hope,” says Dr. Wells. “You still can change your lifestyle habits. All it takes is patience and perseverance, and you’re on your way to a heart-healthy life.”