How Can You Make Lifestyle Changes to Promote Cardiac Health?

You can take an active role in your health to prevent heart disease.

While many factors contribute to heart disease, not smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity all promote good health habits to reduce your risk of heart disease. Knowing your risk factors also helps to determine if you have a short-term risk or life-time risk of heart disease. Be sure to take care of yourself by making changes that prevent heart disease.

There are various risk factors that may increase one’s chances of getting heart disease. While certain risk factors such as age and family history can’t be controlled, others can be managed. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking. Be sure to ask your doctor or health care professional about screening tools for heart disease, and monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose numbers. An elevated level may mean you are at risk for diabetes, making you more susceptible to heart disease.

A heart healthy diet includes a high intake of fruits and vegetables (4.5 cups/day); a high consumption of whole grains and fiber (at least 3-1 ounce servings/day); low saturated fat (<7% of calories, trans fatty acids, and dietary cholesterol less than 300 mg/day); fish at least twice per week; a lower intake of beverages and foods with added sugars; and sodium reduced to 2300 mg or even better,1500 mg/day. To make changes in your diet start by eating fruits and vegetables at every meal, choose snacks and recipes with heart-healthy ingredients such as walnuts; 1,2 learn to read food labels, and prepare more meals at home rather than eating out.

Regular physical activity lowers your risk of heart disease. Adults over 18 should get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. 3 Once you’ve conquered regular physical activity, add in resistance exercise to improve muscle strength with stretching and flexibility exercises. Here are tips to help you include physical activity in your daily routine

  • Buy a fitness tracker and make 10,000 steps your goal each day.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of daily exercise; 10 minute bouts count
  • Choose activities you like to do – swimming, bicycling, golfing, Tai Chi, playing doubles tennis, are all moderate-intensity activities
  • Use a treadmill or stationary bike while you watch television
  • Find a friend or co-worker who will walk with you in the morning or at lunch

While both a healthy diet and physical activity are important to prevent heart disease, stopping smoking also reduces one’s risk of heart disease. If you are a smoker, seek out resources to help you quit. Your doctor or health care provider can help you identify the greatest support for quitting and medicines to support your efforts.

1One ounce of walnuts provides 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat, including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid—the plant-based omega-3.
2Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, March 2004.
3Information provided by the American Heart Association can be found here.

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