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Heart Healthy Lifestyle

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Heart Healthy Lifestyle

You can't change some things that put your heart at risk, such as getting older and having a family history of heart disease. But, there are plenty of other things you can do to keep your heart strong and healthy.

Current guidelines recommend that people should:

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
  • Maintain normal weight
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Increase potassium intake
  • Limit alcohol consumption; however, moderate alcohol consumption (1 - 2 glasses a day) may actually lower the risk for heart attack among men with high blood pressure
  • Consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products while reducing total and saturated fat intake. The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are two ways of achieving such a dietary plan.

Additionally, you should consider the following heart healthy changes:

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking has been closely linked to heart disease as well as a host of other diseases. Quitting is the single best thing you can do for your health. But quitting is hard. Talk to your doctor about products and support that can help you succeed.
  • Know your numbers. Your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index numbers are key indicators to help you improve your health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses. See more information on Know Your Numbers.
  • Get your blood pressure checked. High blood pressure (hypertension) makes the heart work harder than normal. It can also damage your blood vessels. But you may have high blood pressure and not know it because it has no symptoms. Have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis, and if it is high, take steps to lower it.
  • Control your cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that can clog your arteries and raise your risk of a heart attack. Saturated fat raises your cholesterol level more than anything else, so limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Instead, choose healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and some fish.
  • Watch your weight. In most people, extra pounds lead to higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Keep your weight in check by combining a healthy, high-fiber diet with increased physical activity.
  • Get physical. Regular physical activity can cut your risk for many of the main causes of illness and death, including heart disease and stroke. It can also help you lower high blood pressure and cholesterol and control your weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. But check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.
  • Keep an eye on sleep habits. Certain sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea, are associated with hypertension. Even chronic, insufficient sleep may raise blood pressure in patients with hypertension, placing them at increased risk of heart disease and death. Patients with hypertension who are habitually poor sleepers should consider long-acting blood pressure medications to help counteract the increase in blood pressure that occurs in the early morning hours. Be sure to discuss with your doctor.
  • Reduce Stress. Improving mood or relieving stress may be helpful. Treating stress cannot cure medical problems, but it may be an important part of an overall lifestyle plan. Stress management programs are not a substitute for standard medical treatments.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Choose lean meats, cut back on sugar and watch your portion sizes.