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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 01/31/06
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC HEALTH LINE: Prevention is the Key to Heart Health

February is national heart month, a good time to emphasize that prevention is the key to a healthy heart.

Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of all Americans, men and women. But by heeding the following advice you can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease, according to University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center experts Walter Merrill, MD, head of cardiothoracic surgery, and Lynne Wagoner, MD, medical director of the cardiac transplant program.

Avoid Tobacco
If you smoke­, Drs. Merrill and Wagoner urge … quit! Smoking is the leading preventable cause of illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and emphysema. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that damage your heart and blood vessels, and nicotine overworks your heart by constricting blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. The good news: when you quit smoking, your risk of heart, lung and blood vessel disease drops dramatically in just one year.

Exercise can be fun, and it’s good for you. Regular exercise can cut your risk of fatal heart disease by nearly a quarter. Exercise helps strengthen your heart so it can pump more blood and oxygen into your body with less effort. Plus, it builds endurance, controls blood pressure and weight gain and can help reduce cholesterol and your risk of developing diabetes.

Eat Heart-Healthily
Healthy eating doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back or going on a diet. It means eating a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, avoiding processed and fried foods and limiting your intake of certain fats. Saturated fat and transfat increase your risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is found in the food we love to eat such as beef, butter, cheese and milk. Although heart-healthy eating doesn’t mean cutting out alcohol entirely, don't have no more than two drinks a day.

Watch Your Weight
We tend to gain weight with age. And weight gain can lead to conditions that increase the chance of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. A good way to know if your weight is considered “healthy” is to calculate your BMI (body mass index). BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. However, your BMI is an imperfect guide. Very fit and muscular men can have high BMIs without the health risks, because muscle weighs more than fat. In general, men are considered overweight if their waist is greater than 40 inches, and women over 35 inches. Go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Web site,, for an instant BMI calculation.

Visit Your Doctor
One of the most important things you can do is schedule an annual checkup with your doctor, who can pinpoint major risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as smoking, elevated cholesterol or blood pressure, excess weight and diabetes.

Educate Yourself
Learn as much as you can about healthy living. For example, attend any of the 12 free seminars on different aspects of heart health to be held every Tuesday from Jan. 31 through Feb. 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Marriott North, 6168 Mulhauser Rd., West Chester. For registration, directions or more information, visit or call Charity Noble at (513) 558-1810.

UC Health Line contains timely health information and is distributed every Tuesday by the UC Academic Health Center public relations and communications department.

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