What you eat and drink, your activity level, how you cope with
stress and other individual lifestyle factors help determine the
health of your heart. Heart disease is a progressive condition
that can start early in life but can also be prevented or controlled
by making smart lifestyle choices. Follow a heart-healthy diet,
get plenty of exercise, do what you can to reduce stress and live
a life of moderation and you will be well on your way to maintaining
a healthy heart.
1. Eat a Low-fat Diet – A heart-healthy diet is low in total
fat, saturated fats and trans fats that raise blood cholesterol
levels. To cut saturated fat, choose lean cuts of
meat and remove skin from poultry before eating.
Choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products. To avoid
trans fats, check the ingredient list on all commercially
processed food products, especially baked goods and
crackers, and avoid any that contain partially hydrogenated
2. Add Fiber – Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and
helps you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat. A
high-fiber diet contains nutrient-packed foods, such as
fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads
and legumes, such as black beans, lima beans, chick
peas and lentils.
3. Cut Cholesterol – Cholesterol is found only in animal
products, such as meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs.
Lean and low-fat foods can still be high in cholesterol.
Check Nutrition Facts labels to keep track of the cholesterol
in your food and consume no more than 300 mg
4. Eat Fish – Eat fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines,
and albacore tuna at least twice a week. Omega-3
fatty acids, found in fatty fish and in fish oil supplements,
can lower blood triglycerides (fats), slow the
buildup of plaque in the arteries, lower blood pressure
and reduce the risk of sudden death from heart attack,
according to the American Heart Association.
5. Lose Weight – Being overweight increases your risk of
developing high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides
(fats), low levels of healthful HDL cholesterol and heart
disease. Losing weight decreases your risk of these and
other health conditions that affect your heart, such as
diabetes and sleep apnea (obstructed breathing)
6. Exercise Often – Get at least 30 minutes of moderate
exercise every day, or at least on most days. Regular
aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, bike riding, stair
climbing, swimming, jumping rope, circuit training and
dancing keeps your heart fit, raises your levels of protective
HDL cholesterol and can help you lose weight or
maintain a healthy weight. Being active at home and at
work rather than just sitting for most of the day also
contributes to heart fitness.
7. Drink Moderately – Although a glass of red wine contains
antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart
disease and alcohol can cause a slight raise in HDL
cholesterol levels, drinking too much alcohol can increase
your blood pressure, your triglycerides and your
calorie count. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one
average-sized drink daily for women and two for men.
8. Quit Smoking – Many different chemicals found in
tobacco smoke can damage your heart, according to
experts at the Mayo Clinic. Smoking decreases your
body’s supply of oxygen and causes blood vessels to
constrict. Simply cutting back or switching to low-tar
and low-nicotine brands of cigarettes is not enough to
significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. When
you quit smoking, your risk of developing heart disease
starts to drop immediately and decreases dramatically
within the first year.
9. Avoid Stress – The way you handle both personal
and professional stress may affect your heart directly, or
it may affect other risk factors that lead to heart disease,
such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, physical
activity levels and eating, drinking and smoking habits.
If you feel overwhelmed by stressful events or respond
to stress with poor lifestyle choices, speak to a health
care practitioner about healthier ways to cope.
10. Get Checkups – See your doctor for an annual physical
that includes blood pressure and cholesterol testing
and monitoring. Take any medications prescribed to
control blood pressure and cholesterol levels as directed
or speak to your doctor about alternatives.