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Making Your Lifestyle Heart-Healthy

The millions of Americans diagnosed with heart and vascular diseases can benefit from making healthy choices in their day-to-day lives.

Follow a healthy diet

Woman eating salad.

Eating a nutritious diet is a proven way to reduce the risk for heart disease. These are the elements of a heart-healthy diet (amounts listed are for adults):

  • Eat at least 2 cups fresh fruits and 2-1/2 to 3 cups vegetables every day. About half of your overall diet should be fruit and vegetables.

  • Limit saturated and trans fats by using olive oil or other vegetable oils instead of butter or margarine. Consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats.

  • Eat more chicken and fish and less red meat. Avoid processed meats which are loaded with preservatives, sodium, and sugars.

  • Eat 6 to 8 ounces of grains, of which at least half should be from whole-grain bread and cereal.

  • Get enough dietary fiber per day. For women, it's 25 grams. For men, it's 38 grams. Dietary sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, breakfast cereals, bran, whole-wheat products, beans (legumes), and nuts.

  • Limit or eliminate fast foods, which are often loaded with salt, sugar, and fats. Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. For a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet in active people, less than 10% of daily calorie intake is equal to 200 calories a day or 50 grams of sugar in 1 day. If you keep a food diary, you can see that this adds up fast, as sugar is often substituted for fat to add flavor.

  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. That means no more than 2 drinks a day if you're a man, 1 if you're a woman.

  • Limit your salt and sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. Foods that are frozen or canned tend to have more sodium. This is to extend the shelf life and add flavor. Using raw ingredients to cook can help you control the amount of sodium in your food.

  • Get the equivalent of 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or dairy products (or soy, rice, or almond milk for people who can’t tolerate lactose) every day.

Exercise more

Regular exercise keeps your heart and the rest of your body in shape. Here are some ways to add more activity to your life:

  • Check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program if you've been sedentary or have a chronic disease.

  • Start slowly and increase your activity gradually. Experts advise at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week for substantial health benefits. You can do this by taking a brisk walk.

  • Do strength training and stretching exercises 2 or more times per week that will work all major muscle groups.

Stop smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Here's how to live smoke free:

  • Decide to quit and set a quit date. If you fail, try again. Successful quitters often tried many times before they were able to quit.

  • Ask your healthcare provider for information about aids lo help you stop smoking, like a nicotine patch or inhaler, medicines, and a counseling or support program.

Learn to relax

Constant anger and stress can damage your heart. Try these tips to better cope with life's pressures:

  • Try to be positive instead of negative in your outlook on life.

  • Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly and breathe deeply.

  • Take time for yourself each day. Read a book, listen to music, or enjoy a hobby.

  • Get regular exercise. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Yoga and tai chi are good activities for improving flexibility and easing stress.

  • Drink more water. Also cut back on caffeine. Doing these things can reduce the physical stress on your body if you are sensitive to caffeine.

Monitor your health

Take charge when it comes to your heart's health. To do so, work with your healthcare provider to reduce your heart disease risk by following up with them for treatment for high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2021
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