With cardiovascular disease still holding strong as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States (and with women more prone to death from it than men), now's the time to make a heart-smart workout part of your routine. As Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, notes, the fate and health of this vital organ is almost entirely in our hands. "Nearly everybody -- 95 percent or more -- can prevent and reverse heart disease through changes in diet and exercise," he says.
When you think "heart-healthy workout," heavy-duty exercise regimens naturally come to mind. But fitness that boosts the heart isn't just about getting it to pound faster. It also involves slowing it down. Chronic emotional stress can wreak havoc on its rhythm, functioning, and blood flow, says Dr. Roy Ziegelstein, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Reducing stress with the help of strategies like yoga, meditation, and controlled slow breathing, he says, "is crucial to developing and maintaining a healthy heart." The following plan will nourish and strengthen your ticker, not just by making it work harder, but by reducing tension, too -- something you can definitely take to heart.