Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Diet and lifestyle play major roles in keeping your heart healthy. You can decrease your risk of heart disease by making smart food and exercise choices.
Eating Right – Mom Always Said, “Eat Your Vegetables!”
We recommend loading your plate with fruits and vegetables every day while reducing the intake of fatty meats. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in dietary fiber and antioxidants. They can also help you keep your blood pressure in check. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Potassium intake is the key, as it has been proven to lower blood pressure in clinical studies.
To meet your potassium goals, we suggest at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables daily. The best picks are tomatoes, leafy greens, potatoes, bananas, and squash.
Fat – The Good, The Bad and the Omega-3
The amount and type of fat you eat makes a difference in the development of heart disease and other health problems. You should pay attention to the amounts of saturated, unsaturated, and trans fat in the foods you eat.
Research shows eating too much saturated fat is not good for your heart. Bacon, red meat, butter, and sausage are popular food items that are high in saturated fat.
Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat — also called trans-fatty acids — both raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (“good”) cholesterol. A diet laden with trans fat increases your risk of heart disease. Partially hydrogenated oil, used as a preservative in many foods, is very high in trans fat.
Unsaturated fat has been found to be beneficial for overall cardiovascular health while reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Olive oil, canola oil, avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, and almonds are all excellent sources of unsaturated fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat, are commonly found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring. The recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids is approximately two 6-ounce servings of fatty fish per week.
Exercise and Weight Loss – “I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it.”
Adults should commit to approximately 30-60 minutes of regular, aerobic exercise on 5-6 days per week. This can include walking, jogging, biking or dancing. Strength training, such as weightlifting, 2-3 times per week is also recommended.
If your body mass index (BMI) is considered to be overweight or obese, gradual weight loss offers the best results for overall health. Even a 5-10% loss in body weight can help reduce blood pressure and lead to other improvements in health. More intense physical exercise may be necessary for weight loss, so be sure to check with your physician before starting an exercise program.
Stress Management – Laughter’s Not the Best Medicine, But It Helps
Even if you eat well and exercise regularly, stress can wreak havoc on your health. Getting enough sleep, practicing relaxation techniques, and nurturing your relationships with other people are ways to protect you from the harmful effects of stress. Your emotional and mental health can significantly impact your physical health. We encourage you to discuss with your physician any issues that are affecting you, physically or emotionally.
Other Risk Factors
While you can change what you eat and your amount of physical activity, there are some risk factors for heart disease that you cannot change, including:
- Age: The risk for heart disease increases with age.
- Family History: Having a close blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with heart disease increases your risk of heart disease.
- Race: Black women have a higher risk of heart disease than white women, for example.
- Previous Heart Attack: A history of past heart attacks, unfortunately, increases the odds of having more in the future.
While you can’t control every risk factor for heart disease, we encourage you to focus on what you can control to reduce your risk for heart disease: eat right, exercise regularly, and get regular checkups with your physician to monitor your health.
This is general diet and exercise advice. You should always check with your physician before starting an exercise program or radically changing your diet, especially if you have a chronic illness.