Healthy eating is very important for a healthy heart. Eating more calories than your body burns will cause the extra calories to be stored as body fat. People who have too much body fat have a higher risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Excess weight puts strain on the heart. It raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and can lead to diabetes.
Fat has more calories than other types of food, eating less fat can help reduce the day’s total caloric intake. A diet that makes small but permanent healthy changes in eating habits works best.
The American Heart Association makes the following recommendations for dietary and lifestyle goals:
Eliminate cigarette smoking.
Maintain appropriate levels of caloric intake and physical activity to prevent obesity and reduce weight in those who are overweight.
Consume 55 to 60 percent of the day’s total calories as complex carbohydrates (which are vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products).
Consume 30 percent or less of the day’s total calories from fat.
Consume 8 to 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat (primary sources are animal products, palm and coconut oil).
Consume up to 10 percent of total calories from polyunsaturated fat (primary sources are vegetable oils, nuts, and high-fat fish).
Consume up to 15 percent of total calories from monounsaturated fat (primary sources are olive and canola oils).
Consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol.
Consume no more than 2.4 grams of sodium.
For those who drink and those for whom alcohol is not recommended by a physician, consumption should not exceed 2 drinks per day (this is 1 to 2 ounces of alcohol).
Some people mistake the guidelines to mean that each food eaten should have less than 30 percent of its calories come from fat. The guideline applies to the average of all calories consumed over a period of one week. Some foods, such as ice cream, have more than 30 percent of their calories from fat. To promote variety of food choices, it is permissible for your total fat intake to occasionally exceed the suggested 30 percent fat per day rule, providing adjustments are made in the following days. In a week’s time, for example, if 40 percent of your total calories were eaten on 2 days, then this should be balanced out by decreasing your daily fat intake down to 20 percent for two other days during that week.
Your ideal weight depends on your age, sex, and height. Your healthcare provider can tell you what your ideal weight should be. Combining a healthy diet with a regular exercise program is the best approach to losing weight and helping your heart. People who weigh too much should try to lose only about 1 to 2 pounds per week. Routine exercise helps use up stored body fat. It also plays a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.
EXERCISE MAKES YOUR HEART STRONGER
Lack of exercise increases the risk of heart disease. Lack of exercise is also related to other diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Even limited amounts of physical activity can be good for your heart if done regularly and over the long term.
Exercise helps your heart by:
strengthening the heart muscle
making the heart more efficient
improving the flow of blood to the heart muscle and
improving the heart’s ability to handle stress
Exercise should include aerobic activities, resistive exercises, and other active recreational-leisure sports. Shoes and clothing should be worn that are appropriate for extremes of heat, cold, and humidity. The best kind of exercise for your heart is regular aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, such as swimming, bicycling, jogging, or walking, helps build up endurance. It should be done for at least 30 to 60 minutes four to six times a week or 30 minutes on most days of the week. The frequency, duration, and intensity of the activity should be personalized, as should the kind of activity and progression.
Resistive exercises should be done 2 to 3 times a week. Free weights or standard equipment can be used. Resistive exercise develops muscle tone and strengthens muscles. These are very important for aging adults.
Compliance influences the long-term effect of any physical activity program. Even if exercise is not vigorous, if it is regular, it can help the heart. A lifestyle that includes activities like walking, gardening, housework, dancing, and home exercise are all beneficial for yielding long-term health benefits. A lifestyle that includes physical activity from childhood throughout the adult years fosters good health and longevity.
Before beginning any exercise program, see a healthcare provider if:
you have a heart condition
you often have chest, neck, or shoulder pain during or just after exercise
you have recently developed chest pains
you have dizzy spells or sometimes black out
you get out of breath easily
you take medicines for heart or blood pressure problems or have a health condition, such as diabetes, which might be affected by exercise
you have not exercised for a long time and plan to start again
Begin a new exercise program gradually. Do not overdo it! Learn how to exercise safely and correctly. If possible, seek help from a certified exercise instructor who can develop a custom program to meet your health and fitness goals. If you develop chest pain, breathlessness, or other unusual symptoms during exercise, stop and rest. If these problems are new, or concern you, see your healthcare provider.