If you've been diagnosed with angina, taking a few heart healthy lifestyle steps can help you feel better and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Here, what you need to know to eat right, get active—and quit smoking, too.
Eat for Your Heart Health
To put the pieces of an ideal heart-healthy eating plan together, "Think of diet and nutrition like an orchestra—all components should be balanced for optimal heart health," says Walter Willett, M.D., chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health.
To get started, try these six simple steps:
Control your portion size
Fill half a normal dinner plate with green leafy, bright or deeply colored vegetables such as spinach and beets. These veggies are packed with heart-healthy nutrients. Leave a quarter each for lean protein and complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes (not fried!), brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
Eat less red meat
It's high in saturated fat, which boosts cholesterol levels. Instead, choose proteins such as broiled or grilled fish, skinless poultry and beans. Consider eating one meat-free meal a day.
Choose nonfat and low-fat dairy
Opt for skim or soy milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese. Dairy is rich in potassium, which reduces stroke risk, according to recent research.
Fill up on fruits and vegetables
The American Heart Association recommends you get at least four to five cups of fruit and the same amount of vegetables daily. One cup is about the size of a woman's fist.
Favor fiber-filled foods
Fiber-rich foods such as produce and whole grains are satiating—so you may feel fuller longer. Soluble fiber, found in beans, peas, oats, apples, citrus, barley and psyllium, can help lower cholesterol.
Toss the salt shaker
Salt causes fluid retention, which raises blood pressure and can worsen angina. Follow the American Heart Association's recommendation of less than 1,500 mg a day, unless your doctor suggests otherwise. To reduce salt in your diet, eat more fresh foods and fewer processed products, which tend to be loaded with sodium. If you're out at a restaurant, ask if the chef can prepare low-salt versions of menu items for you.
Think Omega-3 for Heart Health
Are you getting enough omega-3 fatty acids? Omega-3s, found mainly in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna, benefit the hearts of healthy people and those with heart problems.
Research shows that omega-3s lower high triglycerides (fats in the blood that circulate along with cholesterol), slow plaque buildup in the arteries and may decrease the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, but if you have angina, you might need more to help get your blood fats under control. Ask your doctor how much is right for you, and whether you might benefit from a fish-oil supplement. Note: More than 3 grams a day might keep blood from clotting and cause bleeding in some people.
Exercise will help make you stronger and increase what's known as exercise tolerance—how much you can physically exert yourself before becoming exhausted. The better your exercise tolerance becomes, the harder you can work out without experiencing angina pain. Exercise also helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
Enlist a buddy
Plan to exercise with your spouse, a family member or friends to help you stay committed. It's also a good safety measure in case of emergency. Contact your local Y or community center—they may have a walking group that meets regularly in your area.
Start slow and build up
"You don't have to work out like an Olympic athlete," says Robert Eckel, M.D., head of preventive cardiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
How much exercise is enough to help your heart? Thirty minutes a day, at least five days each week, of brisk walking is fairly standard. However, if you need to lose weight for your heart's sake, your doctor may want you to strive for an hour of physical activity daily. You can break it up into 15-minute chunks.
Keep track of the time, speed and duration of your walks.
Quitting is essential for anyone who smokes. But it's especially important for people with angina. Among other dangers, smoking causes your arteries to constrict, which can make angina worse.
Talk to your doctor about tools for quitting. Research shows that a combination approach is most effective. So, seek support in group or one-on-one counseling. Ask your doctor if over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies (gums, skin patches, inhalers and lozenges) are appropriate for you. Another option to consider is a prescription antidepressant; several are approved for smoking cessation.
If you exercise regularly, eat healthy and don't smoke, you are on your way to a healthier heart, says Dr. Willet. "These fairly simple steps can help improve angina and prevent the vast majority of heart attacks."