SHAPE Shares: 5 Ways to Protect Your Heart
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The Mediterranean Diet—which emphasizes fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, seeds, herbs, and spices—has long been touted by organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy diet plan, and research suggests it may even make you happier. Now a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes, and deaths could actually be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to the Mediterranean Diet.

We may not all be able to live on a private Greek island, but since February is American Heart Month, there's no better time than now for a refresher course on the simple, everyday steps you can take to protect your heart for years to come.

1. Get moving. There's a reason why working out is the best thing you can do for your body! Regular exercise can lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, prevent weight gain, help you drop pounds, and strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system (and those are just a few of its many benefits!).

2. Stress less. A little stress can be good for your health, but if you constantly feel frazzled, anxious, or overwhelmed, you may be putting yourself at increased risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and arthritis. Our expert tips will help you cope with stress and cool down after a long, hard day.

3. Don't light up. This is a tip you probably hear often, but it's worth repeating. Smoking offers no health benefits and increases your risk of developing respiratory problems, heart problems, skin problems, stroke, and an early death.

4. Learn the signs of a heart attack. "Hollywood heart attacks"—what doctors call events where someone gasps for air, clutches her chest, and falls to the ground—do happen, but far more often than not, the most common signs of a heart attack are much more subtle and include tightness in the chest, discomfort, nausea, fatigue, and jaw pain. Women are less likely than men to call 911 (though they're more likely to call if they think someone else is having a heart attack), making it imperative to know your risk of a heart attack and understand the signs.

5. Lower your blood pressure. Research suggests that 65 percent of those younger than 40 who have high blood pressure don't know they do, putting them at risk for hypertension. Luckily, by making a few simple lifestyle changes, you can lower your blood pressure easily without meds.

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