We all want to have a healthy life, free of disease, worry and medical bills. The stats tell a different story though: the cardiac epidemic, say doctors, is just a heartbeat away. But half the battle against heart disease is won with the right lifestyle and a balanced outlook. When it's dil da mamla , it's never too late to get started. Here are 10 steps to give your heart a chance.

Eat right - Eat in moderation and a variety of foods. Dr K K Aggarwal, president, Heartcare Foundation of India, advises, "Have food of all seven colours and six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent)." Have less of fast-food and takeouts. By cooking for yourself at home or packing a lunch tiffin for work, you exercise greater control over ingredients, cooking methods and smaller portion sizes. Look out for transfats in fried food and snacks that raise coronary heart disease risk. Go for nuts and fruits that are high in antioxidant compounds which help fight cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Eat the right food at fixed times and make the last meal of the day small and early, say, 8 pm. Also, have less of meat, poultry and milk products, oil and butter, more of cereals, fruits and vegetables; keep a check on salt intake.

No smoking, less alcohol - Studies have shown that both active and passive smokers are at risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer. So smokers, please stub it out completely. Moderate alcohol intake is said to be good for the heart according to certain studies, but too much raises risk of high BP and stroke. "Moderate quantity means 1-2 drinks a day," says Dr Praveen Chandra, director, Cardiac Cath Lab & Acute MI Services, Max Heart & Vascular Institute, Delhi.

Watch your waistline - Try and maintain body weight proportionate to your height. One measure of body fat is Body Mass Index (BMI), determined by dividing body weight with square of height. A BMI of 25+ is considered overweight and 30+ is obese. But a study reported in The Lancet journal last year said your waist-to-hip ratio, determined by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement, is more effective at predicting cardiovascular risk than using BMI. For women, the ratio should not be more than 0.8, and for men 0.95. Use the measuring tape more than the weighing scale.

Also, check whether you are an "apple" or a "pear". Apple-shaped people tend to store excess body fat in their abdomen. Excess abdominal fat is thought to increase resistance to insulin, thereby increasing the risk of diabetes which, in turn, raises cholesterol and heart disease risk.

Control blood sugar -Diabetes is one of the biggest lifestyle diseases in India now and a leading cause of heart disease. Keep a check on your blood sugar levels over the last three months, more so if you have a family history of diabetes. Chandra says, "Diabetics should follow strict diet control and go in for regular check-ups because some patients can develop hidden heart disease."

See your doc - With younger people getting heart trouble, check-ups should start early. Says Dr Chandra, "Diabetics and those over the age of 40 should have annual check-ups, as also those over 20 who have a family history of heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure." By 35, the check-ups should be once in two years for those without any health issues. Blood pressure should be kept in check. Ideally, a healthy BP is 140/80; for diabetics it's 130/80.

Have fun - Many a laugh keeps heart disease away, according to scientists. Laughing may reduce BP if practised often enough, by helping you get rid of all that anger and frustration which makes you stressed. A hostile attitude has been linked to a higher incidence of cardiac events, and cynical distrust has been associated with accelerated progression of carotid artery disease. Socialise more: lonely people are at a greater risk of heart problems.

Stressed? Time for timeout - Try this out: Close the door of your room, then sit in a comfortable position and breathe in and out slowly. Relaxation methods, yoga, and stress-management techniques are essential for preventing cardiovascular disease. Meditation decreases electrical changes associated with poor circulation to the heart and has also been shown to lower cholesterol. Don't miss your annual holidays.

Be aware - Dr S Padmavati, chief consultant in cardiology, National Heart Institute, Delhi, says, “In the West, there is awareness about heart disease, its symptoms and treatment. But it is not so in India and that makes recovery difficult in many cases." It's important to know the warning signs of a heart attack so that you can seek medical help in case of an emergency. Watch out for these signs — an uncomfortable pressure, fullness, aching, squeezing, burning pain or tightness in the centre of your chest that lasts for two minutes or longer, chest pain that increases in intensity, sweating, dizziness or fainting, nausea, vomiting or a feeling of severe indigestion, shortness of breath, unexplained weakness or fatigue, rapid or irregular pulse.

Get moving - All of us cannot be marathon runners. But "30-40 minutes of brisk walking four to five times a week is required," says Chandra. That can reduce the risk of heart disease by 20%. So walk, play with the kids or dance to your favourite CD. You can also do jogging, biking, gymming, swimming, etc. If you don't have time for these, then try climbing stairs instead of taking the lift, or get down at the previous bus stop and walk to work/home. As a bonus, it can do wonders for your looks!

Get more sleep - Too little sleep may increase your risk of developing high BP. Sleep allows the heart to slow down and blood pressure to drop for a significant part of the day. Try to get 6-8 hours of undisturbed sleep.

Bottomline: You can't defy death but you can certainly have a healthier, even longer, life. Just listen to your heart.