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9 TIPS for a Healthier Heart in 2009

Harvard Health Report

If January 1st prompts you to make health resolutions, or if you just want to be sure to take the best care of your heart, these nine tips are for you. Some are old, some are new, each will help your heart beat true.

  1. Learn CPR. When a personís heart suddenly stops beating, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is all that stands between him or her and the great beyond. The new hands-only technique is simple and effective. Although cardiac arrests sometimes come out of the blue, theyíre more common in people with heart disease. Ask your family members and friends to take a CPR class with you. You can find one in your area by calling the American Heart Association (toll-free) at 877-242-4277. You can also buy a kit from the association and learn CPR at home.
  2. Know your numbers. Make sure you know your cholesterol profile, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and track them through the year. Ask your doctor if you should have your C-reactive protein (CRP) checked, especially if your cholesterol is in the normal range. Estimate your heart attack risk. You can use a comprehensive tool, such as Your Disease Risk, or the simpler Framingham Risk Score or Reynolds score.
  3. Reduce stress, network more. Personal turmoil, pressure at home or work, loneliness, and other stressors contribute to heart disease. Stress-busting techniques, like exercise, meditation, and other relaxation techniques, and making better connections with family and friends can help protect your heart and health.
  4. Update your understanding. Heart attacks, and the disease that causes most of them, are a bodywide chronic condition, not merely a plumbing problem characterized by discrete blockages. This new view has repercussions for preventing and treating heart disease.
  5. Create a personal health record. Collecting your entire health story in one place, rather than having disjointed chapters stored with each of your doctors, can help you get better medical care, especially in an emergency.
  6. Plan ahead. Making an advance directive, also known as a living will, tells your doctors what kind of care you would like to have if you canít communicate your preferences, which would be the case if you are having a cardiac arrest or are in a coma.
  7. Pick a proxy. If you canít make medical decisions for yourself, you want someone you trust to do it for you. Donít leave this to chance. Once you have chosen your stand-in, or proxy, make it official by giving him or her your durable power of attorney for health care.
  8. Become a searcher. Help keep yourself healthy by learning how to search for medical information.
  9. Be good to yourself. Pamper your heart and arteries with a better diet and more exercise. If you smoke, make this the year to stop. If you are overweight, shedding even a few pounds can take a load off your heart by improving blood pressure, blood sugar, and artery function.

For more information on healthy lifestyles, order our Special Health Report, Living Better, Living Longer at www.health.harvard.edu/LLLB.

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