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A healthy heart in 10 steps

As a dietitian with Minneapolis Heart Institute®, I meet with many patients who feel overwhelmed with advice and tips for improving their heart health. I recognize that often articles, news stories and research can be confusing, so I've simplified these messages into my top 10 tips for protecting your heart.

Nuts for you
The risk of heart disease decreases with nut consumption. Try eating a small handful of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios daily.

Get enough zzz's
Lack of sleep could result in high blood pressure or worsen existing high blood pressure. Aim for seven hours of shut eye every night.

Cut your gut
A waist greater than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women is associated with a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes. Watch your waistline.

Sweeten the day
A daily dose of dark chocolate may benefit heart disease due to its high content of the antioxidants called flavanols. Keep the treat to three candy kisses.

Know your numbers
Your prescription for better health is total cholesterol less than 200 mg, glucose less than 100, blood pressure less than 120/80, LDL less than 100 and HDL greater than 40 for a man and 50 for a woman.

Decrease your screen time
Two or more hours per day of leisure time spent at the computer or in front of a television could increase the risk of a heart attack, even for those who exercise. Rethink those hours of surfing the web.

Laugh a little
People feel happier when they are with happy people and happy people have lower risks of heart disease. Spend your free time with people who make you laugh and smile.

Be a quitter
Each cigarette you smoke is estimated to rob you of 11 minutes of your life. Smoking also damages the heart, lungs and skin. Take action and quit.

Read the signs
Some heart attacks are sudden and cause intense pain but most start slowly with mild discomfort in the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Other signs can be a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Do not second-guess, call 911 and chew an aspirin.

Think color
Eating fruits and vegetables of different colors gives your body heart healthy nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Eating a generous amount can reduce the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

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