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Health and Wellness

Heart-Healthy Diet and Lifestyle Tips

Check out these tips to show your heart some love.  
Written by the Theralogix team of Registered Dietitians
In order to maintain a healthy heart, eat a heart-healthy diet, incorporate regular exercise, avoid smoking, and maintain a healthy weight.

Put your hand on your chest. What do you feel? A steady ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum – a sign that your heart is doing its job.  

Your heart works around the clock, pumping blood throughout your body and delivering oxygen and important nutrients to all your cells. It does its job quietly in the background, never asking for thanks. It’s easy to take your heart for granted, but your heart is the key to your survival. Your diet and lifestyle can help keep your heart healthy for years to come, so check out these tips to show your heart some love.  

1. Follow a heart-healthy diet.  

Your diet has a major impact on your heart health, but it’s important to remember that no one food will make or break your diet. Instead, focus on building healthy habits to help you make the best food choices you can each day.  

Choose heart-healthy fats.  

Fats are an essential part of your diet, but certain types of fat are better for your heart than others. There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated.  

Saturated fat is found mostly in animal products, like meat, full-fat milk and cheese, butter, and fried foods. A diet high in this type of fat can contribute to higher cholesterol levels.  

Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna. Replacing foods high in saturated fat with these options can help support healthy cholesterol levels and overall heart health.  

Check out these tips to help you reduce saturated fats and include more unsaturated fats in your diet:  

  • Cook with olive or avocado oil instead of butter.  
  • Choose reduced-fat dairy products (2% or skim milk, non-fat yogurt, reduced-fat cheese) instead of full-fat dairy products (whole milk, cream, whole milk yogurt, full-fat cheese).  
  • Opt for heart-healthy protein options, including lean cuts of meat, skinless poultry, and fish. Consider choosing a plant-based protein a few times per week, like beans, nuts, seeds, or tofu.  
Cut back on salt.  

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day to support heart health. If you have existing heart concerns, they suggest limiting your sodium even further to 1,500 mg per day. But the average American far exceeds these recommendations – most people consume over 3,400 mg of sodium each day.  

Follows these tips to help reduce your sodium intake:  

  • Use salt-free herbs, spices, and seasonings. Just one teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. You can still lend plenty of flavor to your foods by using fresh garlic or garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, red pepper flakes, chili powder, and more.  
  • Limit processed and packaged foods. Cutting back on the salt you add to your food is a great start, but most of the sodium in your diet is already in the foods you’re eating. Sodium may be lurking in your soup, packaged snacks, condiments, and processed meat and cheese.  
  • Choose unsalted nuts and seeds and look for “no salt added” versions of your favorite canned vegetables and beans.  

Eat more fiber.  

While most people get too much salt, they don’t get nearly enough fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – it helps promote a healthy weight, healthy cholesterol levels, overall heart health, and may even reduce your risk of certain chronic conditions.  

The number one rule with fiber:  

Start low and go slow.  

Too much fiber without enough fluid isn’t pleasant for your gut. Gradually add fiber-rich foods to your diet, and make sure you drink plenty of water as your increase your fiber intake.  

Pump up your fiber intake with these simple tips:  

  • Add a fruit or vegetable to each meal. Eat the skin, too! That’s where you’ll find most of the fiber. And as popular as juices are, you’re missing out on the fiber. Opt for whole fruits and vegetables when possible.  
  • Opt for whole grains instead of refined grains. Swap out white bread for wheat bread, white rice for brown rice, and try a new whole grain like couscous or quinoa.  
  • Make your snacks count. Choose nuts, seeds, fruit, and veggies when you need a little afternoon snack.  
  • Choose plant-based proteins. Plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, and seeds are the total package – rich in fiber and healthy fats to keep your heart in tip-top shape.  

2. Participate in joyful movement.  

The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, as well as muscle-strengthening activity at least twice per week.  

Most people believe that exercise has to look like hitting the gym, sweating through your entire shirt, and being sore for days to be effective. But it doesn’t. Exercise shouldn’t be something you dread, and you shouldn’t have to force yourself to work out. Discovering physical activity that you enjoy is the key to making exercise a regular part of your routine. Sure, there will still be days you don’t feel as motivated to move your body, but if you’re practicing joyful movement, those days will be few and far between.  

So, find activities and types of movement that make you feel good. A typical gym workout is still an option, but feel free to mix it up with these alternatives:  

Hiking. Talk about a breath of fresh air. Get your steps in while enjoying all that nature has to offer.  

Kayaking. This counts as physical activity, too. It’s actually a great way to work out your shoulders, back, and core.  

Kickboxing. Jab, cross, hook, uppercut. Cardio exercise is so much more than walking on the treadmill. Get your heart pumping with a high-energy group kickboxing class.  

Swimming. Whether you prefer to swim laps or participate in a water aerobics class, hop into the water for a low-impact workout session.   

Intramural team sports. Physical activity is more fun with friends – you may even forget you’re exercising. Find out if there are any intermural sports leagues in your area – ultimate frisbee, flag football, softball, and kickball are all great options.  

Yoga or Pilates. Roll out your yoga mat and test your mental and physical strength with a local (or virtual) class.  

3. Avoid smoking.  

Smoking carries a ton of negative effects for your entire body, including your heart. Never touching a cigarette is the best option, but if you do smoke, your body will start to reap the benefits of quitting almost immediately. Research shows that over time, your risk for certain heart-related events drops to that of non-smokers.  

It can be a difficult journey to quit smoking, but there are plenty of resources to help you stay on the right track.  

4. Maintain a healthy weight.  

Weight isn’t the sole indicator of overall health, but research suggests that it plays a pretty big role in heart health. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can help support healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure levels, and lower your risk for chronic disease.  

Following a heart-healthy diet and incorporating regular exercise can help you reach a healthy weight. If you need any guidance, consider talking with a registered dietitian in your area to help you develop healthy habits and reach your goals.  

Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body, second only to the brain. So, take these tips to heart – eat a heart-healthy diet, incorporate regular exercise, avoid smoking, and maintain a healthy weight. 

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