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Today we know more about preventing heart disease than we ever have. It starts by identifying certain characteristics that make it more likely to develop heart disease. These characteristics are called risk factors.

To gauge your risk, you should know how many of the risk factors you have. The more risk factors, the greater your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Some risk factors you can't do anything about. These are called uncontrollable risk factors.

When a man is older than 45, he has the age risk factor. A woman has the age risk factor if she is older than 55, or has had her ovaries removed. If your father or brother had a heart attack before the age of 45, or your mother or sister had one before age 65, then you have the family history risk factor.

All the other risk factors you can do something about. That's why they are called controllable risk factors.

The controllable risk factors are: abnormal cholesterol levels; smoking; high blood pressure; inactivity, or lack of exercise; being overweight; diabetes and stress. Controlling these risk factors should be your goal. Remember, every risk factor you control reduces your risk of heart attack or stroke.

You'll find that when you take action to reduce one risk factor, it helps reduce another. For example, if you are inactive and start to get more active, you are also helping yourself lose weight, improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, cope with stress, and help control diabetes.

When you stop smoking, it helps lower your blood pressure and makes it easier to exercise. And eating less fat to improve your cholesterol helps you lose weight and helps control diabetes.

Today you can do something about the risk factors of heart disease. It starts by knowing what your risk factors are, then taking action to reduce the controllable risk factors.

Control your cholesterol levels. Stop smoking. Keep your blood pressure under control. Stay active. Lose weight if you need to. Manage your diabetes, and manage your stress.

Talk to your healthcare provider about identifying your risk factors for developing heart disease. And ask about the steps you need to take to help prevent, or reduce, your risk factors.

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