Tips for a Heart-Healthy Life

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or any other cardiovascular condition, your doctor may recommend you make changes to your lifes…

If you’ve been diagnosed with a cardiovascular (heart) condition, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart failure, or if you are at-risk for developing heart problems, your doctor may recommend you make a few lifestyle changes. There are several small steps you can take today to help you live a more heart-healthy life.

Heart-Healthy Diet

Many healthcare providers will recommend the therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC) diet for people with heart conditions. The TLC diet is specially designed to help lower your cholesterol. It will also have a positive impact on lowering your blood pressure and will help improve your overall cardiovascular health. While the TLC diet is designed help maintain a healthy heart, it will not necessarily help you to lose weight. If this is your primary goal, talk to your doctor for advice on how you can lose weight safely.

The TLC diet consists of the following guidelines:

  • Limit your daily caloric intake to 2,000 calories or less. You should not be eating more calories than you need to maintain a healthy weight. The number of calories you need depends on your height, weight, gender, and activity level. There are several websites that can help you keep track of all these important health care measurements. There are some online health tracking tools which allow you to store all your health care measurements and then monitor how they change over time
  •  Less than 7 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. Saturated fats are frequently referred to as the “bad” or “unhealthy” fats. They are usually solid at room temperature and often come from animals. Foods such as butter, eggs, meats, and cheeses are known for being high in saturated fat. If you are following a 2,000-calorie diet, you should limit your intake to less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day.
  •  Less than 25-30 percent of your calories should come from fat. Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fats usually come from plants, fish, and nuts and are liquid at room temperature. Cooking oils such as olive oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil are also high in unsaturated fats. While unsaturated fats are generally considered healthier than saturated fats, it’s important to limit the amount of both you eat each day. If you are following a 2,000-calorie diet, you should aim to eat less than 67 grams of fat each day.
  •  You should not consume more than 200 mg of cholesterol per day. Cholesterol is a compound that your body makes naturally. It can also come from what you eat. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, or any other cardiovascular condition, it is important you don’t add extra cholesterol to your diet.
  •  Add plant stanols or sterols, as well as soluble fiber, to your diet. Soluble fiber has been shown to help lower your cholesterol. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all high in soluble fiber. If you are following a 2,000-calorie diet, it is recommended you consume around 10-25 grams of soluble fiber per day.

 You canlearn more about the TLC diet from the National Institute of Health (NIH)here.

 Exercise

Along with a healthy diet, one of the most important things you can do to take care of your heart is to exercise regularly. If you are overweight, losing just 10 pounds can lower your cholesterol by 5-8 percent. The American Heart Association recommends adults over 18 get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. This can be divided into 30-minute workouts, five times a week.

Exercise is any activity that involves moving your body and burning calories. Aerobic activities are exercises that get your heart rate up, improving your cardiovascular health. Dancing, walking, jogging, and biking are all considered aerobic activities. Vigorous exercise usually involves fast-paced activities such as running, jogging, and swimming. Walking is considered a moderate exercise.

 It’s recommended that you talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen. Your healthcare provider will be able to assess your current health and then make specific exercise recommendations that would benefit you. Tomake the most out of your doctor appointments, try keeping a list of your questions along with the answers and advice your doctor gives you.

Reduce Stress

Stress is a normal part of life. However, too much can greatly impact your cardiovascular health. Researchers aren’t sure why, but studies have shown that high levels of stress can increase your blood pressure and make high cholesterol worse, increasing your risk for developing heart disease.

Stress can be easily managed with a few coping techniques. Eating healthy and exercising regularly will help make your body feel good. It’s also important to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Being well rested will help clear your mind, make you feel more relaxed, and it helps keep the extra pounds off. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and take a few deep breaths. Make sure you don’t have too much on your plate. Remember, there is only so much you can do in a day. Finally, if you’re still having a difficult time managing stress on your own, talk to a family member, friend, or even your doctor about what’s on your mind. Sometimes, a little help is all you need.

Live Smoke-Free

According to The American Heart Association, almost 20 percent of deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to cigarettes. Smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease, a serious cardiovascular problem. The best way to prevent heart disease caused by cigarettes is to quit smoking. Talk to your doctor or look online for help with quitting.

Limit Alcohol

Alcohol has been proven to increase your triglyceride levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Drinking alcohol can also raise your blood glucose levels, which can be a problem if you are diabetic. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Women should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Men should consume no more than two per day. However, new research has shown that one glass of red wine per day may help increase your HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.