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7 Simple Steps for Heart Health

New studies on women and job stress, benefits of moderate alcohol, dangers of grief, and more

Kick the habit for good

Quitting smoking raises levels of HDL "good" cholesterol even in the face of the weight gain commonly associated with giving up nicotine, according to a study of more than 1,500 smokers between the ages of 18 and 76.

HDL cholesterol levels generally drop when people put on extra weight, but in spite of an average gain of 10 pounds in the year after they stopped smoking, "blood levels of HDL cholesterol went up pretty significantly, which surprised us," says lead author Adam Gepner, M.D., with the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Another finding we didn't expect was that both light smokers and heavy smokers benefited. A two-cigarettes-a-day smoker and a two-pack-a-day smoker both saw improvements in HDL cholesterol."

Brokenhearted

After the death of a spouse or child, a widowed partner or parent can experience potentially dangerous changes in the way the heart functions, including alterations in rhythm, according to research from Australia. These changes, which seem to fade within six months, increase the risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac death. Researchers have not been able to explain the cause or why the threat to health diminishes over time.

New York University cardiologist Richard Stein, M.D. emphasizes the importance of socializing, reaching out to friends and re-establishing relationships with children at this high-risk time. "Having people you can talk to and confide in seems to protect the heart during this initial period of grief," he says.

Nissa Simon writes about health issues and lives in New Haven, Conn.

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