10 Heart-Healthy Rules to Live By
You can prevent heart attacks
Heart disease causes over 600,000 deaths every year in the U.S., with another 27 million Americans living with it every day. Fortunately, some simple dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing your risk.
"Set small goals for yourself over time to avoid the discouragement that comes when you can’t make changes that are too large or too fast," advises Nancy Trygar Artinian, PhD, RN-BC, director of the Center for Health Research at Wayne State University’s College of Nursing in Detroit. "And then keep an eye on yourself."
Here are 10 moves you can make for a healthier heart.
Choose whole grains over refined grains
The fiber in whole grains will also keep you feeling more full, helping reduce the number of calories you eatalso a good thing for the heart.
Eat oily fish
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of oily fish a week to keep the heart running like a well-oiled machine. If you have a choice, advises Artinian, always go with a natural source of omega-3 over a supplement.
Get a cholesterol test
People at risk for heart disease may need to be tested more frequently so that the results can be used to guide treatment, notes Artinian.
"Pay close attention to the kind of meat you eat," she suggests. "Give preference to chicken over a sirloin steak, for example, as red meats are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol."
Further, avoid meats that have been smoked, as these can carry unhealthy additives such as blood-pressure-raising salt.
And don’t forget to pair physical activity with a relatively low-calorie diet. "Only take in as many calories as you expend through exercise," adds Artinian.
Read food labels
But be sure to do your math. Labels will list both serving size and how many calories and other nutrients there are in a serving, so a little multiplication or division may be necessary. "You can’t just assume that whole can is a serving," Artinian says.
Be diabetes savvy
If you are already one of the 26 million diabetics in the U.S., then it’s in your heart’s best interest to keep the condition under control. A diabetic should maintain a blood pressure below 130 mm Hg (systolic) and 80 mm Hg (diastolic), suggests Artinian. You should also have your blood sugar checked regularly, keeping the fasting blood-sugar level below 110 mg/dL.
Steer clear of added sugar
The human body doesn’t need sugar to function properly, and the extra calories could go straight to your waistline.
Be stingy with salt
Even though many foods naturally contain salt, up to 75% of the salt in the typical American diet comes from processed foodseverything from soups to salad dressings. The ADA recommends choosing foods without added salt, and preparing home-cooked meals with little or no salt.
Eat fruits, veggies, and low-fat dairy products
"All fruits and veggies are rich sources of vitamins and fibers. You want to have an assortment," Artinian says. "The more, the better."
The AHA recommends that adults consume at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, with an emphasis on raw or roasted over canned or frozen. (The latter tend to have more added salt.)