LOSE WEIGHT

The best way to lose weight is by reducing your kilojoule (energy) intake by cutting down on the fat and sugar and following a healthy, balanced diet.

Being physically active also plays an important part in losing weight as you burn up calories.

Try not to lose weight too quickly and avoid "crash diets".

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Instead, aim to lose weight slowly and steadily. Between half a kilogram and 2kg a month is healthy, and you are more likely to keep the weight off for good.

KEEP YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE DOWN

It's normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall during the day, but if it stays high for a long time - usually for at least three months - then you have high blood pressure.

If your doctor says you have high blood pressure, you'll likely be encouraged to make some lifestyle changes.

They might include reducing the salt in your diet, keeping to a healthy weight, increasing your exercise, cutting down on alcohol and eating healthy.

If your blood pressure remains high, your doctor is likely to prescribe medication.

EAT HEALTHIER

Good eating can help keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol under control as well as prevent blood clots and fatty deposits building up in your arteries.

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It's never too late to start eating right

Eating healthy includes what you choose to eat, how you prepare the food and the way these foods influence your heart health.

Changing the balance of the food you eat can reduce your overall risk of heart disease and improve your heart health.

Start by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, choosing low-fat milk, replacing butter with margarines and healthy oils, reducing your salt intake, and when choosing meat, make it lean and include fish as an alternative.


QUIT SMOKING

If you smoke, you are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke.

There are thousands of chemicals in the smoke you inhale.

These can damage the lining of your arteries, reduce the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry, raise your blood pressure and make your blood more likely to clot. You are twice as likely to quit permanently with support, and if you use the right medication, you're twice as likely again to quit permanently.

If you're keen to quit, try writing a list of reasons for quitting and keep the list with you as a constant reminder of the benefits you will enjoy.

Set a date for quitting and stick to it, tell the people who will support you about your quitting, get rid of all tobacco products in your home.

Be aware of situations in which you are more likely to smoke, be positive and, if you need to, try nicotine replacement therapy.

GET ACTIVE

You can reap the benefits of being more active from all sorts of exercise - and any increase in exercise will be good for your health.

Exercise includes everyday things like walking, gardening or climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift.

Start in small amounts of continuous activity at a level that suits you until you can gradually build up to 30 minutes of continuous activity each day.

Remember, it's best to stop exercising if you feel any pain or discomfort.

TACKLE YOUR CHOLESTEROL

Cholesterol in your blood comes from two sources, your body and food.

Your liver and other cells in the body comprise about 75 per cent of your blood cholesterol. The other 25 per cent comes from the foods you choose to eat. Too much cholesterol can cause a fatty build-up which narrows your blood vessels, and you run a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke if your cholesterol levels are not well controlled.

Great ways to keep cholesterol down include eating a heart-healthy diet by using small amounts of the right kinds of fats and oils, exercising moderately at least 30 minutes each day, losing weight if you're overweight, cutting back your alcohol intake and taking cholesterol-lowering tablets if prescribed.


DIABETES: WATCH FOR THE WARNING SIGNS

If you find you have a high risk of developing diabetes but don't yet have it, you can take action that may prevent you from ever getting diabetes.

Managing blood sugar levels involves making lifestyle changes and possibly medication, and you should also eat a healthy diet, do regular exercise, quit smoking and lose weight if you need to.

People most at risk of developing diabetes include Europeans aged 40 years or older, those with a family history of diabetes, those with high blood pressure, those who are overweight, and people of Maori, Asian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Island descent aged 30 years or older.

Some people with diabetes have experienced warning signs, which include feeling very thirsty, passing urine more often, feeling tired, feeling hungry, having blurred vision and losing weight without trying.

RELAX

Stress is not a direct risk factor for heart disease. However you might use smoking and drinking as a way to cope with it.

If there's too much stress in your life, try changing your lifestyle in a positive way. Maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise has also been shown to help people cope with stress.

If you often feel stressed or anxious, it's important to learn how to relax. Some people find that exercise, yoga or other relaxation techniques can help, while you can also make a list of things that help you to relax. You might have identified particular situations that make you feel stressed at home or at work - try to avoid these if you can.

Visit the Heart Foundation's website, www.heartfoundation.org.nz, or calculate your heart age online at www.knowyournumbers.co.nz