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If you're among the millions of Americans who have multiple risk factors for heart disease, the best way to protect yourself is to make lifestyle changes that eliminate or reduce your risk.
But as we all know, change isn't easy — especially when you're talking about changing long-standing behaviors, such as smoking, eating unhealthy foods or being a couch potato.
Liebson stresses the importance of a team approach to support heart disease prevention goals. "In heart disease prevention, a nurse, nutritionist and behaviorist are essential for supporting patients and helping them reach their goals," he says.
The team can assess the patient's current health habits and see if there are any roadblocks, such as concerns or fears, related to changing any unhealthy habits.
Once those roadblocks have been identified and addressed, patients should work with their health care team to prioritize the changes that they want to accomplish, whether it's quitting smoking, starting an exercise program, reducing stress or adopting a healthier diet.
"When you've determined what the first and most important lifestyle change is that needs to be made to lower your risk, you then create a contract with your doctor or care team," says Liebson.
"For example, the patient might say, 'The next time we see each other, I'll be ready to set a quit date for when I'll stop smoking.' Or they might pledge to sign up for a weight-loss program by the next meeting. You can't imagine how helpful it is to set these goals."
Create a new contract for each subsequent goal, with realistic timeframes for accomplishing each change, and keep track of your progress by writing down each milestone in a journal.
Stay on top of your heart health by getting the following routine screenings:
Having the support of your doctor and the other health care professionals on the team is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that you stay on track and reach your goals.
See your doctor more frequently if any of the following is true:
The sooner you commit to lowering your risk, the better, says Liebson. So talk to your doctor at your next appointment, or schedule an appointment soon, to get you started on the path to better heart health.
"Having the support of your doctor and the other health care professionals on the team is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that you stay on track and reach your goals," Liebson says.
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