Your heart is the center of your cardiovascular system. And, having a healthy heart is vital to your overall health. Two of the simplest yet most important ways to help your heart health are through diet and exercise.
Eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Choose healthy fats. Despite what you may have heard, some fats are good for you! Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides, a type of fat that clogs arteries. Look to add monounsaturated fats such as canola, olive, and peanut oils to your diet. Other good sources are olives, avocados, nuts, and nut butters. These fats can help lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and raise “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
- Go whole-grain. Whole grains may be most useful for people who need to lower their cholesterol or control their blood sugar levels. On average, three servings of whole grains per day can help your heart to stay healthy, and eating more than that is likely to be even better for your heart.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are good for your body. They also add flavor, color, and variety to your diet.
- Don’t forget beans. Beans are high in minerals and fiber without the saturated fat found in some animal proteins. Once in a while, try substituting beans for meat in a favorite recipe, such as lasagna or chili.
- Choose low-fat dairy. Choose the fat-free or low-fat versions of milk, yogurt, and cheese products.
- Pack in the protein. Eat protein–rich foods, including fish, lean meats, skinless poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, and beans.
- Cut back on salt. Lowering the amount of salt you eat can help lower the amount of fluid your body holds onto. This lowers your blood pressure and makes it easier for your heart to do its work. Getting no more than 1,500 milligrams per day (about a quarter-teaspoon of table salt) helps the most.
Exercise makes your heart stronger. This helps it pump more blood with each heartbeat. This delivers more oxygen to your body. With more oxygen, your body functions more efficiently.
Exercise can also lower blood pressure. It reduces your risk of heart disease and reduces levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Bad cholesterol can clog the arteries and can cause a heart attack. At the same time, exercise can raise levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). HDL helps protect against a heart attack by carrying fatty deposits out of the arteries.
Getting even as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days helps. You can do anything that makes your heart beat a little faster, whether it’s walking, water aerobics, washing your car, or something else. Refer to our Staying Active this Winter blog for winter activity suggestions. Before you start, check with your doctor to see if there are activities that aren’t appropriate for you. Then choose activities that you enjoy and that you can work into your day.
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