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Here’s to Heart Health!

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Learn five ways to lose weight — and how to keep it off — for a healthier heart

One of the primary side effects of obesity is dissatisfaction with our appearance. Often, how we look is all we think about when it comes to losing weight — but carrying extra pounds has serious health repercussions for both men and women.

Being overweight or obese can strain the heart, raise blood pressure and increase levels of LDL (the “bad” type of cholesterol). It also lowers levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, increasing the risk of developing diabetes.

[Suggested pull quote] In Dec. 2013, the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that modest weight loss over two years in overweight or obese middle-aged women may reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The key is sustaining weight loss.

To markedly reduce your risk of developing heart disease, you don’t need to starve yourself or try a fad diet. Instead, aim to lose 10 percent of your body weight through thoughtful changes to your daily nutrition and physical activity. Focusing on maintaining a healthier weight will also help. Here are five tips to make that 10 percent a little easier to attain.

Don’t try to lose all the weight at once.

The most sustainable changes are the small ones that you work into daily habits. Regularly eat ice cream after dinner? Try low-fat Greek yogurt with honey instead. Find yourself overeating? Use a smaller plate, and only serve yourself a second helping 20 minutes after finishing your first plate.

Pay attention to the fats you eat most often.

Our bodies need fat to function, but choosing the right kinds of fats can make a world of difference when it comes to cardiovascular health. Trans fats, found in many fried and processed foods, are the unhealthiest fats you can eat. Aim for higher levels of unsaturated fats, found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and essential fatty acids, like omega-3s and omega-6s.

Practice mindful eating.

Cultivating the habit of listening to your body will help you on your weight loss journey. Ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, or just thirsty — and pour a glass of water before your meal. Don’t eat in front of a TV or computer screen, as you’ll consume up to 20 percent more food without even noticing.

Take steps to reduce stress.

Not only do we overeat when we’re stressed, our bodies also secrete cortisol — a hormone related to abdominal fat distribution. In a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000, researchers connected the waist-to-hip ratios of lean and overweight men and women to their cortisol levels, concluding that those with wider waists secreted significantly more cortisol in stressful situations.

Work exercise into your day. Getting enough physical activity is especially important for those with sedentary jobs. Don’t just walk from your car to your desk, and then stay seated for hours. Every hour, get up; stretch; and take a five-minute walk. If you really can’t leave your desk, do some seated yoga. Your heart will thank you.