4 steps to take for a healthier heart

Lifestyle changes to make now to make big difference

HOUSTON – It's the season for resolutions, so how about resolving to have a healthier heart?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women, but doctors said certain lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce your risk.

KPRC 2 asked Dr. Barry Franklin for his top four resolutions for a healthier heart. Franklin said step one is more steps.

"My first and foremost is become more physically active,” Franklin said.

But that doesn't require logging more time at the gym. This year, he suggested, resolve to disguise your exercise.

"Disguise your exercise and by that, I mean get in the habit of covering at least 30 minutes of walking throughout the day," Franklin said. "Get to work 10 minutes early, walk briskly. Over the lunch hour, walk 10 minutes and when you're all done, walk an additional 10 minutes, and I mean briskly. Pick up the pace. Walk like you're late for a doctor appointment or you're late for a meeting."

Resolution No. 2 is to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.

"It's the single greatest killer and crippler. In fact, the average lifelong cigarette smoker loses 10 to 12 years of their lifespan. People don't realize it," Franklin said. "If you live with a smoker, and he or she is a lifelong smoker, your risk for heart and lung disease is 30 percent higher. Breathing someone else's smoke has negative consequences.

"We know cities and towns that open up smoking bans where you can't smoke anywhere have a big decrease in heart attacks and most of the decrease is in nonsmokers, so they stand to benefit the most."

Franklin said diet is also key.

"No. 3, eat more fruits and veggies. We tell all of our patients at least five servings of fruits and veggies every day," Franklin said.

To increase the odds of reaching that goal, resolve to eat two fruits or vegetables at breakfast.

"My specific recommendation is get out the darn door with at least two," Franklin said. "This morning I had oatmeal, I threw some blueberries on there. I had a glass of V8 vegetable juice, then I had a banana on the way to work. So I actually had three."

Finally, resolve to know your numbers when it comes to cholesterol.

"No. 4, find out what your cholesterol is. If it's anything above 160, reduce it by 40 points. It's called 'The rule of 40,'" Franklin said. "For every 40 points you lower it, you cut your risk in half. If your cholesterol is 240 in January and in December it's down to 200, you cut your risk of a heart attack in half. If it's 200 and you take it down to 160, you cut your risk in half again. How do you do it? Healthier diet, more regular exercise, weight loss, and for some people they'll need a medication called a statin, which can lower cholesterol."

Franklin said whatever your resolutions are, write them down and be specific about your goals.

"Look at them every day because you become what you think about," Franklin said.

About the Authors: