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theBIGfour Top heart advice is often ignored A
Too few people follow the 'big four' habits that protect the heart

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Date published: 4/30/2006

MERE 3 PERCENT of U.S. adults follow the top four habits most recommended for good heart health: avoiding cigarettes, eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.

"I'm not sure that we really know why," said Dr. George Sopko, a cardiologist with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "If you look at human nature, people go for the easiest and the fastest when dealing with life in general."

Frequently chowing on fast food, skipping meals and trading exercise for extra-large servings all can do a number on your heart, Sopko said.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute hopes to nudge more of us toward heart-healthy behaviors with two new publications, "Your Guide to a Healthy Heart" and "Your Guide to Living Well With Heart Disease."

The guides give a practical, step-by-step approach to addressing the top risk factors for heart disease: cigarettes, high blood pressure, inactivity and being overweight.

Overwhelmed at the thought of trading burgers and fries for tofu and brussels sprouts? The guides outline ways to ease off fast food and sneak vegetables past even the pickiest eaters.

"You are in control," said Sopko, who was a consultant on the new guides.

Like many health experts, Sopko hopes to remind people there's no quick fix when it comes to good health. "It takes a little work," he said.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, and the country's ever-expanding waistline seems responsible for much of the problem. Children aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables, adults aren't setting good examples with daily exercise, and the convenience of fast food and crash dieting are far too often the norm, Sopko said.

He and his colleagues hope the new guides make clear that we can all take action to shore up our hearts.

"It really comes down to starting early," said Sopko, pointing to a lack of healthy snacks available in many schools and the need for parents to set good examples. "The family is crucial."

The study revealing that 97 percent of Americans neglect to follow all four habits critical to a healthy heart was published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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DONYA ARIAS is a freelance writer who lives in Stafford County.