12 Weeks to a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
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.
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
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 cancer.
Limit how much saturated fats 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 less than 10% of your total daily calories from saturated fats. If your
daily calorie goal is about 2,000 calories, saturated fats should make up no more
than 200 calories of that total. Also remove trans fats from your diet. Trans fats
are found in processed foods, such as 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.
Improve your cholesterol levels. Try to minimize your dietary cholesterol.
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). Ninety percent of Americans eat more
sodium than they need. 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. Experts advise that healthy adults limit their daily
sodium to 2,300 mg. Leave the saltshaker off the table and eat fewer processed
Eat more fiber. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain dietary fiber.
Depending on your recommended daily calories, work up to 3 ounces of whole
grains, 2 cups of fruits, and 2 and 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. Drink
more fluids to prevent constipation. High-fiber foods help keep cholesterol in
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.
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 preservatives.
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.
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
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