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    4 STEPS TO A HEALTHIER HEART
    (SKY-BLUE IMAGES/STOCKSY.)

    You already know that maintaining a healthful diet, avoiding smoking, and getting plenty of exercise help keep your heart strong, but these other easy tips can give your heart-healthy lifestyle a boost.

    Start a gratitude journal: Tapping into happy, positive emotions has been linked to lower chances of cardiac problems, while feelings of negativity can contribute to heart risks like high blood pressure over time. Each day, write down one thing that you’re grateful for—when you’re feeling down (depression is also linked to greater risk of heart attack or stroke), flip through for an uplifting reminder of all the good things in your life.

    Plan your meals: If you can’t seem to say no to that cookie or side of fries, try keeping yourself on a healthy eating track by planning out meals ahead of time. Create daily or weekly menus (snacks too!) that include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, then write them out and post them in the kitchen. If you have time, cook up a week’s worth of meals over the weekend so it’ll be easier to eat well.

    Try yoga: Cardio and strength training strengthen your heart and help you maintain a healthy weight, but yoga may benefit the heart too. Research shows that all its components, from breathing to mindfulness, work together to quell inflammation (which can damage the heart and its functions over time) and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol to lower blood pressure.

    Blast belly fat: Being overweight in general is a heart disease risk factor, but carrying extra pounds around the midsection is especially dangerous—likely because this fat wraps around internal organs and secretes hormones and chemicals linked to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and heart attack. Besides exercising and getting good sleep, load up on fiber-filled foods like produce, nuts, beans, and oatmeal, which can help keep visceral fat at bay.