- Don't put it off any longer. It's time to do everything you know you should be doing: exercising, eating a low-fat-high-fiber diet, losing weight and quitting smoking. Thousands of studies have told you this. Now, just do it.
- Don't fool yourself. Don't think that just because you eat healthfully, it's okay to smoke a little. Studies have shown that when it comes to lifestyle changes, you have to do it all or you don't reap the benefit of any of it.
- Time yourself. For heart health, you need to do 30 minutes of physical activity a day. (To lose weight, you'll need to work up to 60 minutes a day.) Your activity could be as low-tech as walking to do your errands or as regimented as a daily exercise class. But remember, fewer than 20 percent of adults achieve 30 minutes of sustained activity every day, so watch the clock.
- Focus on fitness level, not whether you are fat. If you're fit, being a few pounds overweight is more likely due to increased muscle and doesn't matter as much. Once you start exercising and becoming more fit, it becomes easier to make healthy food choices.
- Know the symptoms. Many of us think we know what a heart attack looks like: The man who first senses a tingling sensation in his arm before gripping his chest and falling to the floor. Only problem is, it's different for women, who more typically have extreme fatigue, nausea and a feeling of tightness around their chest.
- Keep aspirin handy. First, check with your healthcare provider to ensure that aspirin is safe for you. If you notice symptoms of a heart attack, consider popping an aspirin in your mouth immediately. Then get yourself to the hospital. When you arrive at the hospital, make sure the admitting nurse or doctor knows that you think you're having a heart attack.
- Know your numbers. What's your blood pressure? What's your cholesterol? Fasting blood sugar? Numbers can tell a lot. See your doctor and keep track of your numbers. Optimal numbers are a total cholesterol lower than 180 mg/dl (milligrams per decileter), an HDL cholesterol greater than 50 for women and greater than 40 for men, blood pressure lower than 130/80 and a fasting blood sugar not higher than 100 mg/dl.
- When in doubt, call your doctor. If you notice symptoms that could indicate heart disease, such as high blood pressure that doesn't respond to medication, or water retention in your legs, don't wait – get to your doctor's office stat.
- See your dentist, too. Infection in the teeth, gums and mouth can contribute to and trigger heart disease.
Tips provided courtesy of C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., Director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.