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Heart disease, stroke and diabetes—these are conditions that happen to older people, right? Sure, they're more common in the aging crowd, but living your later years with any of these health problems isn't inevitable, as long as you do something about them now. Here's what you need to do to safeguard your heart:

Try a little number crunching.

Do you know what your blood pressure is? How about your cholesterol levels or your body mass index (BMI)? You should. They're a good indicator of the state of your ticker. Here's what to aim for:

• Blood pressure: less than 120/80 mm Hg

• BMI (a measure of body fat based on height and weight): between 18.5 and 24.9; find out yours using the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's online BMI calculator,

• Cholesterol: total cholesterol, less than 200 mg/dL; "good" HDL cholesterol, 50 mg/dL or higher; "bad" LDL cholesterol, less than 160 mg/dL to less than 100 mg/dL, depending on your heart risk

• Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL

Retool your diet.

Your body needs low-fat foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. When you cook, do so in heart-friendly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils, such as olive and canola. Stick to lean meats like white-meat chicken without skin or pork tenderloin and fat-free or low-fat dairy like skim milk or low-fat yogurt. Cut out processed foods and other items high in sodium. And, of course, watch those portion sizes. You don't have that teenage metabolism anymore!

Exercise your right.

A brisk 30-minute walk may not be as enticing as, say, a half-hour of "CSI: Miami," but it will do a whole lot more for your heart. Fitting in physical activity on most or all days of the week will help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and help keep your weight in check. Another bonus: It can help you reduce stress, which is known to lead many a person down the dark path of unhealthy habits (overeating, smoking). Even a little bit of exercise is better than nothing. But if the thought of a treadmill makes you want to run away screaming, find an activity (think dancing, tennis, softball) you actually enjoy so you're more apt to stick with it.

Go easy on the scale.

Don't be fooled by fad diets. A good diet and regular exercise are the only ways to stave off obesity. By following steps 2 and 3, you're well on your way to shedding any excess pounds.

Butt out!

Are cigarettes your constant companion? With friends like that, who needs enemies? Talk with your doctor about quit-smoking aids and which ones may be a good fit for you. If someone in your house smokes, talk with them about quitting. Hey, it's affecting your lungs, too!

Dr. Nadarajah Srikumar is a cardiologist with Bryan Heart Institute.

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