Mehmet Oz, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, may be a renowned heart surgeon, but he'd rather help prevent heart disease than do another bypass operation. Despite risk factors you can't change, such as family history, the way you live does make a difference, he says. Here, his pain-free prescription:
- Go out and play. You are better off being in good shape and fat than thin and in bad shape. There's no pill or diet that can substitute for the health benefits of exercise. Don't starve yourself, but eat well and get moving, doing whatever kind of exercise is fun for you. Go for a bike ride with your spouse, or play basketball with your kids. You'll look and feel better, and your heart will thank you.
- Watch your waistline Despite the advice above, where your fat lands is key. Abdominal fat is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, which dramatically increases the risk of heart disease. So do sit-ups and keep your waist measurement less than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women
- Have sex. Sexual activity can provide exercise and emotional bonding, perhaps explaining why one study shows that having orgasms at least 100 times a year (that's twice a week) is associated with longevity. On the other hand, sexual dysfunction can be a signal of heart disease. Like a dipstick, erections of the penis reflect the vascular health of a man's heart, so trouble in that department may mean it's time to see your doctor.
- Go nuts Rich in healthy fats, nuts are great to snack on and very filling, so you don't feel compelled to eat as much junk.
- Relieve the pressure Emotional stress causes physical stress. Avoid traffic jams, for example, which studies show are associated with heart attacks. Relaxation techniques keep the heart healthy. Yoga and meditation are great, but even simple stress-reduction techniques can work. Try counting to 10 and taking yourself outside the situation, as if just observing it. Stress can also raise your blood pressure, and studies show that people with the lowest blood pressure have the fewest heart attacks. What we once thought was normal may be way too high for heart health. While we don't know yet how low is low enough, if you have heart-disease risk factors and your blood pressure is 130/80 or higher, see your doctor.