Small changes in food, diet and exercise can yield big heart health dividends. The American Heart Association wants to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent, both by the year 2020. Its guidelines are easier than you might think.
These 7 habits can slash your risk of heart disease—starting today.
1. Get Moving
Regular physical activity lowers blood pressure, increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels, keeps blood sugar in check and helps you control your weight. Enjoy a moderate exercise (such as walking) for at least 150 minutes per week or vigorous exercise (like bicycling or jogging) for 75 minutes per week.
2. Control Cholesterol
A total blood cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or higher puts you at risk for a heart attack or cardiovascular disease. Keep yours below that level by eating foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fats, by exercising regularly and by taking cholesterol-lowering medication if your doctor prescribes it.
3. Manage Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease, but it is controllable. Ideally, if you have diabetes your blood pressure should be below 140/80 mm Hg. (Your doctor will let you know what your ideal blood pressure target should be.) Eat a heart-healthy, low-salt diet, get regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, limit alcohol and avoid tobacco smoke. Your doctor may also prescribe a blood-pressure-lowering medication.
4. Maintain a Healthy BMI
Body mass index (BMI) assesses your body weight relative to your height. An ideal BMI is lower than 25. To calculate your BMI, multiply your weight by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide again by your height in inches. If your BMI is 25 or more, increase physical activity and modify your diet to lose weight.
5. Quit Smoking!
Smoking by itself increases the risk of coronary heart disease. When it acts with other factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, it greatly increases your risk from those factors. The health benefits of smoking cessation begin immediately. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start. If you do, quit now.
6. Maintain Healthy Blood Glucose Levels
Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. (There is also evidence suggesting that high blood glucose can contribute to heart disease in people who don’t have diabetes.) Work with your doctor to maintain tight blood glucose control.
7. Eat to Beat Heart Disease
A heart-healthy diet includes:
- At least 4½ cups of fresh fruit and vegetables per day
- At least two 3.5 oz servings of fish per week Ideally, you should choose fish that contain omega-3 fats, like salmon, mackerel, lake trout, sardines and herring
- At least three 1 oz servings of whole-grain products that are high in fiber (1.1 g or more of fiber per 10 g of carbohydrate)
- Less than 36 oz of sugar-sweetened beverages per week (that’s less than three 12 oz cans of soda)
- No more than two servings of processed meats per week
- No more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
- No trans fats—and choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products, lean meats and skinless poultry.
Adapted from our sister publication, Diabetes Focus (Spring 2012)