12 Weeks to a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

12 Weeks to a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Woman writing in journal.

Heart disease is a killer, but you can
do plenty to reduce your risk and prolong your life. Research shows that making lifestyle
changes can lower your risk for heart disease.

Adopting heart-healthy habits over the
next 12 weeks will start you on the road to better health and a longer life.

12-week plan

  • Week 1. Commit to
    getting fit. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that a large number
    of deaths each year result from not getting regular physical activity. Try to
    start exercising 3 times a week. Check with your healthcare provider first if you
    haven’t been exercising regularly. Build to 150 minutes weekly of moderate aerobic
    activity. This is 30 to 40 minutes a day, 4 to 5 days a week. The more you
    can exercise, the greater the benefit to your health.

  • Week 2. Stop smoking.
    You can have the most positive impact on your heart health by quitting smoking.
    It’s also one of the hardest changes to make, so sign up for a smoking cessation
    program. If you don’t smoke, make an effort to stay away from secondhand smoke.
    Being around smoke can increase your risk for heart disease.

  • Week 3. Eat less fat.
    Fat is the most concentrated form of energy and calories. Cutting back on fat
    helps you lose weight and reduces your risk for heart disease and some forms of

  • Week 4. Limit how much
    saturated and trans-fats you eat. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats
    is linked to lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. It
    also lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease. Aim for getting no more than 5%
    to 6% of your daily calories from saturated fat. If your daily calorie goal is
    about 2,000 calories, saturated fats should make up no more than 120 calories of
    that total. Also limit how much trans fat you eat. Trans fat is found in
    margarines, snack foods, and prepared desserts. Choose lean cuts of meat and
    low-fat dairy, and use oils instead of solid fats. Limit baked goods, processed
    meats, and fried foods.

  • Week 5. Improve your
    cholesterol levels. Try to limit your dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day. Diets
    with lower levels of cholesterol are linked to a lower risk for cardiovascular
    disease. Check that your daily menu includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole
    grains, and low-fat dairy. Choose fish and skinless chicken instead of fatty cuts
    of red meat. Add beans (legumes) to your diet, and use soft (tub) margarine,
    canola oil, and olive oil in moderate amounts. Limit sweets, sugar-sweetened
    drinks, and alcohol.

  • Week 6. Eat less salt
    (sodium). The average American age 2 or older has twice the recommended amount of
    sodium per day. Most sodium comes from salt added during food processing. Salt
    added at the table and in cooking is only a small part of the total sodium that
    Americans consume. The AHA recommends that all Americans limit their daily sodium
    to 2,400 mg. Leave the saltshaker off the table and eat fewer processed foods.

  • Week 7. Eat
    more fiber. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain dietary fiber. Depending
    on your recommended daily calories, work up to 3 ounces to 5 ounces of whole
    grains, 2 cups of fruits, and 3 cups of vegetables each day. Drink more fluids to
    prevent constipation. High-fiber foods help keep cholesterol in check.

  • Week 8. De-stress.
    Stress increases your risk for heart disease and speeds its progression. People
    who are constantly angry or stressed have higher rises in blood pressure than
    people who aren’t. This constant unrest can damage the heart. Be aware of stress
    and find ways to control it. Exercise, yoga, and meditation are great ways to help
    control stress and keep your heart, lungs, and body healthy.

  • Week 9. Become a savvy
    grocery shopper. Most foods include important nutrition information on their
    labels. Paying attention to these numbers will help make sure you eat healthy. Buy
    fresh ingredients and make meals from scratch. This helps you control how much
    fat, sugar, and salt goes into the foods you are eating. This also limits

  • Week 10. Find a new
    activity. This week, try a new sport or activity you enjoy. You might enjoy
    water-walking, circuit training, inline skating, or slide aerobics. Group fitness
    activities may be helpful. You can get and give support to others who may be
    working toward the same goals you have.

  • Week 11. Know what’s
    on the menu. When you eat out, try to eat as well as you do at home. Ask your
    server how food is prepared. Don’t order cream sauces, cheese sauces, or fried
    foods. Choose broiled, steamed, or stir-fried dishes. Be mindful of the calories,
    fats, and sugars in foods in restaurants. Many restaurants have nutrition
    information available or you can research this before going out to eat on the
    restaurant’s website. Know what is going in to your body. 

  • Week 12. Eat breakfast
    every day. Everyone needs energy first thing in the morning, yet many people skip
    breakfast. Plan ahead and have healthy foods ready to go.