What is a heart healthy lifestyle?

Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist

A heart healthy lifestyle usually involves eating a low fat, high fiber diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables with less focus on red meats. It also includes at least 2 or more servings of fish in a week. Exercising regularly which means at least 30 to 40 mins of brisk walking 4 or more days a week is also important. It can also include maintaining an ideal body weight, getting plenty of sleep and learning to use healthy coping strategies to deal with stress.

Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The following are some heart healthy tips:

  • H: Hydration. Potassium helps water enter the cells and balances out sodium for hydration as well as optimal heart health. Try avocado, banana, coconut water, and dried fruits.
  • E: Essential Fatty Acids. Omega 3 fats are critical to heart health. Choose wild fish, flaxseed and hempseed oils, walnuts, soybeans, and chia seeds.
  • A: Apple. An apple a day will help keep the heart doc away as it's rich in fiber and phytonutrients. But an apple-shaped body? Caution. Waist circumference is a key indicator of heart disease risk.
  • R: Red. Red berries, red tomatoes, red wine (resveratrol). The skin and pigmentation of the fruits have heart healthy benefits. Go for organic!
  • T: T.E.N. (the Ten Essential Nutrients). So much of heart health has nothing to do with what we eat, but how we live our life. Take time for laughter, breathe better, sleep thoroughly, etc.
  • S: Skip Sugar. Added sugar can clog up our blood like cars on a freeway at rush hour, this makes the heart have to work harder, causing fatigue. Tip to lower sugar: instead of products with added sugar, go for the plain versions (like oats or yogurt or cereal) and dress them up with your own fixins like fresh fruit and nuts.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The road to a heart healthy lifestyle is covered with exciting choices. One is choosing the smartest food choices, stimulating activities and some rest stops to collect oneself and continue making optimum elections.

For smart food choices, begin gradually by:

  • Switching to low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Select lean meats such as: poultry, fish and turkey
  • Bake, broiled or steam your foods
  • Use olive oil or canola oil instead of tropical oils
  • Include more fruits and vegetables in your weekly diet
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A heart healthy lifestyle is a way of living that can lower your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. It can also make you feel more physically fit and even improve your mood and appearance. Four key components of a heart-healthy lifestyle are:

  • Avoiding tobacco. If you smoke, quit! If you don’t, keep it that way.
  • Eating right. The food you eat and how much of it you consume can have a tremendous effect on your heart. Go for foods that are rich in nutrients, such as whole fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. And keep your portion sizes in check.
  • Getting active. At least 30 minutes of physical activity five days out of the week is ideal. But if you can't hit that goal right away, some exercise is definitely better than none, so start off with 10 minutes of walking and build up from there.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation if at all. Imbibing too much, whether it's beer, bourbon, or Beaujolais, can increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Shraddha Chaubey
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

An effective heart healthy diet would be a diet plan that is right for your age, gender, and health conditions. A registered dietitian can come up with a personalized diet plan for you to promote your heart health. Along with a healthy eating plan you also need to include some regular physical activities that you can enjoy, avoid smoking and limit alcohol use, maintain healthy body weight. And also find ways to reduce your day today stress level. Studies have shown that stress can cause some serious cardiac arrest even on healthy individuals.

Even seemingly minor choices you make on a daily basis can have a significant effect on your heart health, such as whether you choose oatmeal or a pastry for breakfast, and whether you take the stairs or the elevator. If you’re concerned about your heart health, you can schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. The following tips will help you keep your heart healthy:

  • Quit smoking. Smokers have a much higher risk of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attack and stroke, along with many other life-threatening medical problems. If you smoke, you should be aware that it’s never too late to quit. Your lungs will begin healing as soon as you cease smoking. You can find the resources you need to quit smoking at your community hospital.
  • Reduce your sugar intake. Research suggests that consuming too much added sugar increases the risk for death from heart disease. A doctor at might recommend keeping a food journal to track how much sugar you’re really consuming. Some common sources of added sugars include soda, sports drinks, dairy desserts and breakfast cereals.
  • Manage stress. Excessive or chronic stress can contribute to health problems, including hypertension. It can also predispose you toward making unhealthy lifestyle choices. If you’re struggling to manage your stress and anxiety, consider talking to your doctor about your treatment options and lifestyle changes that may help.
  • Start a walking program. Doctors often recommend a walking program to individuals who are new to fitness programs since walking programs have a low “dropout” rate. Walking for at least 30 minutes each day can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, coronary heart disease and stroke.
Towanda Stewart
Nursing Specialist

With the prevalence of coronary artery disease (CAD), hypertension (HTN), congestive heart failure (CHF) and other cardiac disorders and medical diagnosis, there are many disease specific instructions that you may get from your doctor. Some basic heart healthy instructions may include:

  • Monitoring sodium intake (may cause swelling (edema)) HINT: may need to rinse vegetables from can before cooking and read food labels
  • Monitoring fluid intake (especially with CHF) HINT: 6 to 8 cups recommended daily otherwise to avoid dehydration
  • At least 30 minutes aerobic exercise at least three times a week (unless contraindicated)
  • Opt to consume baked foods over fried foods at times to decrease cholesterol intake and decrease chance of atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
  • Keep doctor appointments and take medication as prescribed!

Simple lifestyle choices make a big difference in your heart health. Here are 7 steps to a healthy ticker:

  1. Get moving. Burn between 3,500 and 6,500 calories a week (roughly 500 to 950 a day). Cardiovascular exercise that gets your body moving and your heart rate climbing, and makes you breathe harder helps lower your blood pressure.
  2. Know your numbers: cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar—plus two more: homocysteine and C-reactive protein. Consider these numbers a stock ticker for a heart-healthy ticker. They tell you—and your doc—how you're doing and when you need to do more.
  3. Deal with negative emotions. Anger and hostility can raise blood pressure, while people with depression are four times more likely to have a heart attack.
  4. Eat right. Opt for a heart-healthy diet with healthful fats, fiber, and good-for-you nutrients, such as flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals. Nix the salty, sugary, sat-fat-laden, or processed stuff.
  5. Know your family history. If Mom, Dad, or a sibling, for example, developed heart disease, be extra vigilant about screenings and adopting heart-smart practices.
  6. Pop an aspirin. Evidence shows that aspirin may reduce the incidence of heart attack or heart disease by making blood platelets less sticky and decreasing arterial inflammation. But it only makes sense for men over the age of 35 and women who are older than 40. Check with your doctor first because aspirin can have side effects, such as stomach irritation and bleeding.
  7. Get your 40 winks. Skimping on sleep increases arterial aging and raises your risk of a heart attack. Getting less than 6 to 8 hours a night also causes you to release less serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in your brain. The result: You risk later indulging in less-than-healthy ways to feel good, such as noshing on sugary foods or tipping too many martinis.

For a heart healthy lifestyle, the American Heart Association recommends the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Control cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.
  • Get regular exercise and eat healthier.
  • Ask a doctor about taking aspirin every day (for a man over the age of 45, or a woman past menopause).
  • Manage stress.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site.  In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Making changes today can make all the difference to your heart now and in the future. Data from the Nurses' Health Study at Brigham and Women's Hospital estimates that well over half of the heart attacks in women can be prevented through lifestyle modifications. If you can remember these five heart healthy steps, you will be on your way to better cardiovascular health.

  • If you smoke cigarettes, you should quit. The nicotine and other substances in cigarette smoke can seriously damage your cardiovascular system, putting you at increased risk for heart attack.
  • Engage in moderate or vigorous exercise at least 30 minutes per day. Aerobic exercise—any exercise that makes the heart and lungs work harder to supply the muscles with oxygen—is a great way to strengthen your heart. The Nurses' Health Study showed that women who engaged in regular exercise, including walking briskly (at least three miles per hour) as little as three hours per week, decreased their risk of heart attack by 30 to 40 percent over sedentary women. Furthermore, women who walked at the same pace five hours per week cut their risk in half. Women who exercised vigorously (jogging, running or aerobics, for example) for 1.5 hours each week enjoyed similar benefits. It is important to remember that your exercise routine can be broken down into 10- and 15-minute intervals. Most important, the research found that women who were sedentary at the start of the study and later became active had similar risk reductions.
  • Eat a heart healthy diet. A heart healthy diet is one that is balanced in calories and includes healthy amounts of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and heart healthy fats. Trans fats (found in margarines, fried foods and those containing "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil") and saturated fats (found in red meats, butter, cheese and whole milk dairy products) raise the low density lipoprotein (LDL) (bad) cholesterol and should be limited.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can more than double your risk of heart disease and contributes to other factors that play a role in heart disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. You should maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI).
  • Know your numbers. By monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels you should have a good idea of what your "numbers" are and that will enable you to make healthier nutrition choices.

In order to keep your heart healthy, you should exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and maintain a normal blood pressure. If you have a strong family history of heart disease, visit your doctor to discuss further testing such as cholesterol levels and blood glucose.

Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

Some heart healthy tips:

  • Stop smoking
  • Keep your weight in normal limits
  • Exercise-check with doctor before starting any exercise plan
  • Keep your blood pressure within normal range
  • Keep your cholesterol in normal range
  • Keep your blood sugar in normal range
  • Reduce stress or learn how to handle stressful situations
  • Get plenty of rest

For more specific information the American Heart Association is a good source of information.

In addition to a heart healthy diet, you should make the following lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, you should quit. Quitting smoking will improve your health and the health of those around you.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help improve your cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for coronary artery disease. Regular exercise can also help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. Get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise or 20 minutes of intense exercise on most days of the week. To lose weight, get at least 60 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Children should exercise for at least 60 minutes each day. Talk to your doctor about the best exercise program for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.