Heart Healthy Tips

Taking care of your heart requires following four lifestyle habits of eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking. Just like a table needs four legs to maintain proper balance, not doing one or two of these can throw off your equilibrium and increase your risk for heart disease.

Your heart needs nutritious foods to stay healthy. Start with a plenty of fruits and vegetables, add a variety of whole grains and high-fiber cereals, and opt for lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites or egg substitutes. Don’t forget to include legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils, which are good sources of protein that also have less fat and no cholesterol, making them good alternatives to meat. Try to limit sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure, and avoid saturated and trans fats that can be found in butter or margarine. These can add to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis, which could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of both)[1]. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week1. Physical activity is anything that involves moving your body and burning calories. Aerobic exercises that are good for your heart include walking, jogging, swimming or riding a bicycle. But don’t forget strength and stretching exercises that are beneficial for stamina and flexibility. Being active can help prevent and control both high blood pressure and diabetes, and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Being obese increases your risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol. Losing even a small amount of weight can help lower these risks, but there is no quick way to lose weight and keep it off. Successful, long-term weight loss requires a change in lifestyle. Set a goal to lose one-half to two pounds per week. Combining a reduced calorie diet of 500 to 1,000 calories less that the current diet and regular physical activity can help shed pounds and stay trim for a lasting weight loss[2].

Quitting smoking has immediate health benefits for your heart. Twenty minutes after quitting your heart rate and blood pressure drops; in 12 hours the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal; in two weeks to three months, circulation improves and lung function increases; one year later the excess risk for coronary heart disease is half that of someone who still smokes[3]. Regardless of how long you have smoked, quitting can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

You also can take care of your heart by getting regular cholesterol checkups and managing stress. In general, most people should get their cholesterol checked about once every five years[4]. Preventing and managing stress can help reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. For more heart healthy tips, read Taking Charge: An Action Plan for Heart Health available on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

  1. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/American-Heart-Association-Guidelines_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#
    First paragraph
  2. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/other/your_guide/healthyheart.pdf
    Page 63, Getting Started – third paragraph
  3. http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-benefits
    When smokers quit – What are the benefits over time?
  4. http://www.healthfinder.gov/prevention/PrintTopic.aspx?topicID=14
    The Basics – second paragraph


General References

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-healthy-diet/NU00196
  2. http://www.healthfinder.gov/prevention/PrintTopic.aspx?topicID=45
  3. http://www.healthfinder.gov/prevention/PrintTopic.aspx?topicID=22
  4. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/Obesity/Obesity-Information_UCM_307908_Article.jsp