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7 Things You Need to Know About Your Heart Health - KSL.com Brandview - 02/15/2016

They say the heart wants what the heart wants, but sometimes, what your heart wants is a whole lot different than what you want — like a cheeseburger with fries. Understanding how your body's most crucial organ functions is a big step in helping to protect your overall health. According to The Heart Foundation, heart disease, which includes heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular diseases, is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Taking heart health a little more seriously is all about being informed.

Your heart is a workhorse

Work can really wear you down. And when it comes to doing the heavy lifting, your heart is your body's workhorse. Think about this: your heart beats an average of 72 times per minute. That's 100,000 times per day, 3.6 million times each year and 2.5 billion times during the course of your lifetime. A worker like that deserves some TLC.

Men's and women's hearts are different

If you've ever been in a relationship with the opposite sex, this fact isn't surprising. What might be surprising is that the physical characteristics of the heart vary by sex. Women's hearts and arteries are smaller than men's, according to Dr. Matthew Hagemeyer, MD at Ogden Clinic,. Hagemeyer, who specializes in many aspects of family medicine, also said that estrogen protects women's hearts and that as estrogen decreases with menopause, the risk of developing heart disease increases.

The Mediterranean diet isn't a fad

When it comes to protecting your heart, your diet is paramount. Hagemeyer recommended following a Mediterranean diet, which research has shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats, like those found in nuts, olive oil and avocados.

"Heart disease kills about one in four Americans," Hagemeyer said. "But many of these deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes like exercising and improving diet, potentially reducing the risk of dying from heart disease."

Of course, eating the good isn't effective if you're still indulging in the "bad." Hagemeyer recommends eliminated processed meats, trans fats and refined sugars from your diet.

Breakfast is crucial

It's time to apologize to your mother; as it turns out, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. In fact, according to a study from Harvard School of Public Health, men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack than men who had a morning meal. Researchers reported the findings would likely apply to women as well.

A yearly check-up is best

Protecting your heart isn't a one-person job. An annual exam goes a long way in preventing and treating signs of heart disease. That said, sometimes once (a year) is not enough. According to Hagemeyer, "if a person has cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes, he should likely be seen more often."

It's not worth the salt

If you've got a salt tooth, it might be time to cut back. According to the American Heart Association, excessive sodium consumption caused nearly 2.3 million heart-related deaths worldwide in 2010. If you're heavy-handed with the salt shaker, it might be time to find a seasoning your heart likes a little better.

Stress might be to blame

Blaming your poor heart health on your stressful job or family life might be valid — or might not. According to Hagemeyer, it is unclear how stress contributes to heart disease.

"It may be that stress itself is an independent risk factor, or that it may increase the likelihood of elevating other known risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol," he said. "Learning how to relax and getting adequate rest can help decrease stress and keep your heart healthier."

This year, it's time to give your heart what it really wants — improved health.