Tips for a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
The key to living a heart-healthy lifestyle is balancing your intake of calories with the calories that you burn off through exercise.
It’s a simple equation, but one that’s easily forgotten in today’s fast-paced, fast-food lifestyle. Still, there’s an undeniable link between foods high in fat and increased cholesterol, the waxy substance that builds up in your arteries increasing your risk for a blood clot and heart attack or stroke. Some factors, such as genetics, also play a role in heart disease and stroke.
Any eating plan should be based on MyPyramid, the United States Department of Agriculture’s guide to a balanced diet. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy and are packed with phytochemicals that help prevent heart disease and several forms of cancer.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start making changes in your diet and exercise that could help reduce your risk of a first-time or a recurring stroke. Although high blood pressure usually cannot be cured, it can be controlled and/or prevented.
As with any change in diet and exercise, be sure to consult your physician.
- Drink more water. Water fills you up, making you less likely to succumb to a snack attack, plus it’s a necessary ingredient for a healthy body. Make it more appealing by keeping a favorite glass close at hand and add a wedge or two of lemon for a burst of flavor.
- Be a savvy shopper and read those labels! Watch out in particular for processed foods high in fat (especially trans-fat which is linked to heart disease and high cholesterol), calories and carbohydrates. Look for foods made of whole grain or whole wheat and those that are high in fiber. Soluble fiber is the most desirable because it slows food digestion, which some researchers believe helps regulate cholesterol and glucose (sugar) levels in the blood by affecting absorption rates.
- Fat-free doesn’t mean calorie-free. Many people make the mistake of thinking that because something is fat-free or low-fat they can eat more of it. In fact, those “little” calories quickly add up and if not burned off, can turn into fat, too.
- Resist end-of-the-day stress eating. That hour or two between the end of work and dinner is when the temptation to snack often peaks. Take a walk or keep a bag of nuts handy for a quick and delicious snack. The monounsaturated fat in almonds reduces LDL cholesterol and increases the HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. They are also a good source of Vitamin E. Other good choices: hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts. Keep it to a handful, about 1-1/2 ounces or 1/3 cup.
- Reduce mealtime portions and think color. When eating at home, don’t overload your plate. This just increases your likelihood of eating more than you need. A serving of meat should be no bigger than a deck of cards. Think color and add some simply-prepared veggies, such as steamed spinach and garlic, a baked sweet potato with just a dab of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar, or a serving of frozen corn (without the heavy sauces). And when eating out, don’t feel like you have to clean your plate. Take some leftovers home. You’ll be glad you did!
If you’re in one of the high-risk groups for heart attack or stroke, here are some other tips:
- Lose weight: This is especially important if you are overweight and if you tend to gain weight around your waist rather than in your hips and thighs. Losing just 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure.
- Become more physically active: Keep your heart strong. Exercise regularly. Thirty to 45 minutes of brisk walking three to five times a week will help lower your blood pressure (and will also help you lose weight). Record your activities and reward yourself at special milestones. Nothing motivates like success!
- Moderate alcohol use: Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day.
- Cut down on salt intake: Don’t put the salt shaker on the table, and limit ready-mixed sauces and seasonings, frozen dinners, canned soups and salad dressings, which are usually packed with sodium. Eat lots of fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables that have very little sodium, and look for products labeled “low sodium” (containing less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving). Always measure the salt in recipes and use half of what is called for.
- Stop smoking: Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Doctor’s orders. Always follow your doctor’s advice. Take your medicine if your doctor decides you need it to lower your blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked often.
- Stick with it: Managing high blood pressure is a lifetime undertaking. You can’t stop your program just because you feel good. Remember, this is a silent disease – it damages the heart and blood vessels without ever causing pain.
- Have your blood pressure checked regularly – and keep your heart healthy.
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