Cherries and blueberries improve heart health

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A healthy heart in 10 steps

As a dietitian, I meet with many people 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.

Eat nuts

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

Get enough sleep

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 with chocolate

A daily dose of dark chocolate may benefit heart disease due to its high content of the antioxidants called flavanols. Keep the treat to the size of 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 or binging your favorite show.

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 smoking.

Know the signs of a heart attack

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 light-headedness. Do not second-guess, call 911 and chew an aspirin.

Eat in 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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