Heart disease, the leading cause of death among Americans, is often linked to risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight[^1^]. A heart-healthy lifestyle, encompassing a balanced diet and regular physical activity, can help control these risk factors. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Plan to Eat Heart-Healthy
Planning is the first step towards a heart-healthy diet. Aim for a balanced intake of calories, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low/fat-free dairy products[^2^]. The number of calories you need each day depends on your age and physical activity level. Incorporate seafood, lean meats, poultry, beans, eggs, and unsalted nuts for protein. Limit saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Opt for healthier cooking methods like grilling, steaming, or baking instead of frying, and flavor your meals with spices, not sauces[^3^].
Changing your perceptions of how and what you eat can make a significant difference. Use smaller plates to help limit portion sizes. Chew slowly and savor the textures and flavors as you eat[^4^].
Choose Healthy Snacks
Opt for treats with fewer calories that fit into your daily eating plan—like a cup of red seedless grapes or a small banana, a cup of cherry tomatoes, a handful of unsalted nuts, or a half cup of low/fat-free yogurt[^5^].
Dine Out the Healthy Way
Eating healthy is possible even when dining out. Control portion size by eating half your entrée and taking the rest home for another meal. Limit calories by choosing foods that are broiled, baked, or roasted. Ask for low-sodium options from the menu, and leave off or ask for butter, gravy, sauces, or salad dressing on the side[^6^].
Find Heart-Healthy Menus to Enjoy
How you eat day after day makes a real difference in your health over time. Find heart-healthy recipes and information about the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan at healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov[^7^].
Embrace an Active Lifestyle
Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Aim for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. This can reduce your risk for heart disease and your chances of developing other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight[^8^].
No Excuses for Inactivity
You can get active throughout the day. Take walks at work instead of coffee breaks, or just do more of what you already love—biking, dancing, and gardening all count[^9^].
A Complete Program Has Three Types of Activity
Aerobic activity like brisk walking, jogging, dancing, or biking gets your heart rate up. Resistance training (like doing pushups) firms, strengthens, and tones muscles. Flexibility exercises stretch and lengthen muscles so you’re more flexible—think yoga[^10^].
Choose Activities That Suit Your Style
While some people like to exercise alone, others benefit from the support of group classes or team sports. Whether indoors or outdoors, find what works for you and get your most vigorous physical activity at the time of day you feel most energetic, so you’ll stick with it[^11^].
Once you get active, make sure you stay active. If you get bored withan activity, try something new by joining a gym or the YMCA. Set short- and long-term goals to become more physically active, and plan ahead by scheduling your physical routines into your day—that way, you’ll make it a priority[^12^].
Embracing a heart-healthy lifestyle is a key aspect of maintaining your overall health. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and, if required, medication, can help maintain your blood pressure within a healthy range. Remember, it’s always crucial to consult with your healthcare provider about your blood pressure and any concerns you may have[^13^].
- The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022). Put Your Heart Into Getting Active and Eating Healthy. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Put%20Your%20Heart%20Into%20Combined%20Tip%20Sheet.%20FINAL.%20508..pdf, p. 0
- Ibid., p. 1