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Small steps with big benefits

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death of women in America.

Heart attacks and strokes kill more women than all cancers combined, yet 45 percent of women are uninformed about this disease and how it affects them differently from men.

According to Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk, The Ohio State University’s chief wellness officer, vice president for health promotion and College of Nursing dean, the good news is that 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable with four healthful behaviors: eating healthfully, managing stress, being active and avoiding tobacco.

You can protect your heart by asking your health care provider for a screening and adopting these healthful lifestyle choices.

Get moving, change your snacks

You don’t have to join a gym to be active. Just 30 minutes of walking a day is effective, and those minutes don’t have to be spent all at once. Take an apple or some carrot sticks with you as snacks instead of sweet treats, and you’ve already made a significant move toward heart health. The beauty of these behaviors is that they reinforce each other: Fruits and vegetables give you more energy to move.

Get grounded

Most of us can’t change all the things that activate stress in our lives, but we can change how we respond by engaging in new behaviors to reduce our stress levels. Taking just a few minutes of time out for stress relief when you start to feel tense can make a world of difference. For example, taking five deep breaths, engaging in a couple minutes of mindful meditation, writing your thoughts down on paper to dump negativity or simply petting an animal can help you feel grounded again.

Use good habits to quit bad ones

Moving, eating better and reducing stress also can help smokers quit. The American Lung Association recommends taking part in swimming, jogging, brisk walking and other activities with which smoking doesn’t fit in. Healthful snacks such as carrots, fresh fruit and plain popcorn can be a good diversion. And if you’re increasing your activity and planning healthful meals and snacks for yourself to reduce heart disease risk, there’s no better time to quit smoking, too.