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Know Your Risk Factors

There are many factors that can impact your heart's health — blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and more.

Having a family history of heart disease puts you at greater risk for developing heart disease yourself. Knowing your risk factors is an important step toward having a healthier heart and the quality of life you want.

This guideline can help you make simple but important steps that can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Start with One Step

Some 43.2 percent of deaths in our South Coast Region in 1995 were caused by heart disease and stroke. Many of them were preventable.

There are so many risk factors that can affect your heart's health: blood pressure, diet, cholesterol, exercise, stress, smoking. It can all seem very overwhelming. "Start With One Step" is an easy guide to help you on the way to a healthier heart, from the Change of Heart Program.

All you have to do to begin a chain reaction of positive results is to pick one risk factor to work on. When you feel you have that under control, choose another one. It's really not hard when you take it one step at a time.

There are several areas of your life that can have a huge impact on your heart. We've listed them on this page with some simple steps to take for each. Read through them, and choose one that you can do right away. Track your progress in our "What's the Scoop?" section.

Reducing Stress

Stress is the body's and mind's reaction to change. A few simple changes in how you react to stress con go a long way toward having a healthier heart and the quality of life you want.

Chronic stress can set the stage for future heart disease. Stress can also trigger a heart attack in those who already have heart disease/stroke. There are many effective ways to better cope with and reduce stress.

  • Look at how you react to everyday stress. Do you become aggravated over small thing? Do you worry about things that may never happen? Learn to let go!

  • Relax by doing something you enjoy. Try different things like exercise, reading, listening to music, yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises.

  • Set aside time in every day for relaxation.

  • Make sure you get the sleep you need.

  • Seek out the support you need from your family, friends or professional counseling.

  • Keep a positive attitude!

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.

  • Remember that laughter is great medicine!

For additional help, consult a health care professional.

Quitting Smoking

There are a few lifestyle factors that can go a long way toward having a healthier heart and the quality of life you want. Quitting smoking is one that can have a huge impact.

Cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. Exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of heart disease. When you stop smoking, your risk starts to drop.

  • Figure out why you smoke. Are you smoking to relax because you are bored, "just because?"

  • Write down the reasons why you want to quit, and look at them every time you want a cigarette.

  • Set a date to quit and stick with it.

  • Get support from a non-smoking friend.

  • Try to avoid situations that tempt you to smoke. Munch on carrot sticks or chew sugarless gum.

  • Find other ways to relax: Listen to music, take a walk or meditate.

  • Keep trying to quit until you succeed.

For additional help, consult a health care professional.


Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. A few simple changes in how much you exercise can go a long way toward having a healthier heart and the quality of life you want.

Exercise strengthens your heart, improves your cholesterol ratio, reduces fatigue, improves circulation and helps you handle stress. You can reduce your risk of heart disease/stroke by increasing your physical activity.

  • Consult a health care professional before you begin exercising.

  • Try walking, running, biking, swimming or something else you enjoy.

  • Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

  • Exercise with a friend or partner.

  • Be active every day. Set realistic goals for yourself.

  • Aim for at least 15 minutes a day of 30 minutes every other day.

  • You don't need to do it all at once! You can build up to 30 minutes by walking three times a day for 10 minutes.

  • To avoid injury, include a warm up and cool down.

For additional help, consult a health care professional.

Eating Healthy

A few simple changes in what you eat can go a long toward having a healthier heart and the quality of life you want.

High blood cholesterol increases your chance of getting heart disease/stroke. The saturated fat and cholesterol in food raise your blood cholesterol levels. You can lower your blood cholesterol level by eating in a heart-healthy way.

  • Eat fewer foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Choose skim of low-fat milk; low-fat yogurt and reduced-fat cheeses.

  • Choose fish and poultry more often. Limit serving sizes to five (5) to seven (7) ounces per day.

  • Trim visible fat.

  • Limit egg yolks; substitute two (2) egg whites for one (1) whole egg.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, breads and cereals.

  • Use less salt and fat; season with herbs and spices rather than sauces, gravies and butter.

For additional help, consult a health care professional.

Cardiovascular Health Task Force

The Southcoast Hospitals Group Cardiovascular Health Task Force was formed in 1998 in response to our region's high incidence of heart disease.

The task force is made up of members from across the Greater Fall River, New Bedford and Wareham, Mass., region, including representatives from health care, human service, government, education, the American Heart Association, consumers and heart attack survivors. Our goal is to encourage all South Coast residents to have a Change of Heart by choosing a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Statistics show that the South Coast region has higher rates of heart disease than other areas of Massachusetts or the nation. About two in five of our residents die from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the region. Figures show that 39 percent more heart attacks occur in this area than in any other part of the state. More South Coast residents report having risk factors for heart disease (being overweight, not exercising, smoking, having high blood pressure and high cholesterol) compared to Massachusetts and the United States.

In response to these statistics, Southcoast Hospitals Group Community Benefits Program identified heart disease as a major health issue for our region and joined with other community organizations to form the Cardiovascular Health Task Force.

Change of Heart is an ongoing initiative providing resources on prevention and treatment of heart disease as well as incentives for making a change for healthier hearts.

Change of Heart's main focus is Start with One Step, a guide for a healthier heart. It identifies key areas that can impact your heart health and provides practical information on how to target these risk factors by making small changes in your lifestyle one step at a time.

If you are interested in joining the Southcoast Hospitals Group Cardiovascular Task Force, please call 508-679-7115.

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Southcoast Heart Center

Charlton Memorial Hospital
363 Highland Avenue
Fall River, MA 02720

St. Luke's Hospital
101 Page Street
New Bedford, MA 02740

Atrial Fibrillation Wellness Program
Cardiac Catheterization
Cardiac Rehabilitation
Electrophysiology & Heart Rhythm Services
Open Heart Surgery
Structural Heart/Valve Clinic
Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Services

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