A healthy diet and lifestyle, along with making smart healthcare decisions, can be a pathway to a healthier heart. Your family history can have some impact on your chances of heart disease, but there are some simple steps one can follow that, if you stick to them, can offer long-term heart-health benefits.
The American Heart Association notes that a heart-healthy diet should include:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat or non-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
Make sure the foods you eat are “heart healthy.” Include foods high in fiber, such as oat bran, oatmeal, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables. Cut back on foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, such as meats, butter, dairy products with fat, eggs, shortening, lard and foods made with palm oil or coconut oil. Limit foods with trans fat, such as snack foods and commercial baked goods. Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you choose to eat red meat, select lean cuts.
Use up at least as many calories as you take in. Find out how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Nutrition and calorie information on food labels is typically based on a 2,000-calorie diet. You may need fewer or more calories depending on your age, gender and level of physical activity. Control your calories through portion control. Eat until you are comfortably full but not stuffed. If you eat out, this can lead to yummy leftovers.
If you aren’t sure how to eat right, ask us about our new Creative Pharmacist program. We can help you with planning meals to help lower fat and calorie content in your diet to reach and maintain a healthy weight. This program also provides specific exercises tailored to your specific goals.
Lifestyle choices are important. Smoking significantly increases your chance for heart disease. If you smoke, quit. Your doctor can tell you about ways to help you quit smoking. Try to avoid even secondhand smoke. And avoid drinking too much alcohol. This can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease.
Regular exercise can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose and help you gain greater cardiovascular fitness. Each week, try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity or an equal combination of both. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Sounds like a lot for you? This is easier than you think! Take a half-hour walk every day. Or walk for 10 minutes after each meal. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. And park at the far end of the lot. If you are not able walk for long periods of time or take the stairs, talk to your doctor about other exercises that will work for you.
If you don’t know your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar, make an appointment with your doctor and have them checked. Your healthcare provider should test your blood levels of cholesterol at least once every five years. If you have already been diagnosed with high cholesterol or have a family history of the condition, you may need to have your cholesterol checked more frequently.
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, you can take steps to lower your risk for heart disease. These can be diet or lifestyle changes, and/or medications prescribed by your doctor.
Ask your doctor whether you should take an aspirin every day. Studies have shown that taking a low dose of aspirin every day can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services