Health 'Rules' You Should Break

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Tailor it if you're trying to prevent or treat heart disease. True, any activity is better than none but sweeping or pulling weeds probably won't work your heart hard or long enough to significantly reduce the odds of clogged arteries, heart attack, or stroke. Instead, do 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise four or five times a week to dramatically lower your heart risk. A study of nearly 40,000 women found that briskly walking at least 2 hours each week halved the risk of heart disease.

Smart advice: Swimming is an ideal low-impact aerobic exercise.

Tailor it if you have asthma. The chlorine in a pool--even if it's outdoors--can trigger an attack. In children, it may even raise the odds of developing the disorder in the first place. To be on the safe side, find a different form of exercise if you have asthma that flares up poolside, experts say; if you have a child under age 7 with allergies, don't take him to a pool with a strong smell of chlorine. (And if you're trying to slim down, here's another argument for a land-based workout: Most swimmers don't burn enough calories to shed many pounds.)

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Your Food and Drink

Smart advice: Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables.

Tailor it if you take the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). This drug prevents dangerous blood clots by blocking the action of vitamin K, which is needed to make clot-building compounds in the blood--but too much K in your diet can overwhelm your protection. The nutrient is especially abundant in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, and kale, so don't have more than one serving of any of these in a day.

Smart advice: Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day.

Tailor it if you have bladder control problems. You might be able to avoid leaks by cutting back a bit on fluids. Ask your doctor how much you should drink each day--and don't worry if it doesn't come close to the magical "8 glass" rule. Nearly 20% of your water intake comes from food anyway, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. If you're peeing at least every 8 hours and your urine is light colored, you're likely drinking enough.

Your Medications

Smart advice: When it comes to blood pressure, lower is better.

Tailor it if you have coronary artery disease (CAD). Getting your blood pressure down--to about 120/80--can help you avoid a heart attack or stroke, but don't go much lower. You need a little extra pressure to push blood through your narrowed vessels. A study of more than 22,000 people with CAD found that cutting diastolic pressure (the bottom number) to less than 70 more than doubled the risk of a heart attack or death. One exception: Low blood pressure didn't seem risky for CAD sufferers who'd had angioplasty to clear obstructed vessels or bypass surgery to reroute blood through a healthy new vessel.

Smart advice: Acetaminophen is one of the safest pain relievers and a first line choice for arthritis relief.

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