Six hundred thousand Americans die each year due to heart disease, and more than 25 million live with heart disease each day. You can reduce your risk by making wise decisions regarding your diet and lifestyle. Here are 10 steps you can take to get started.
- Eat fish that is high in oils. Tuna and salmon, among other oily fish, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to reduce blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests eating at least two 3-1/2 ounce servings of oily fish each week. If possible, choose a natural source of omega-3, rather than a supplement.
- Opt for whole grains rather than refined grains. There are several benefits in choosing whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour, rather than refined grains such as white bread or white rice. The fiber in whole grain not only lowers cholesterol, but it also keeps you feeling full, which is an important factor in calorie reduction.
- Be stingy with the salt shaker. The AHA states that you should limit your diet to a half a teaspoon of salt per day. Choose foods without added salt, prepare home-cooked meals, and avoid processed and fast foods.
- Make smart choices regarding meat. The kind of meat you eat and your portion size are both significant factors when it comes to heart health. Choose lean meats, and no more than about 6 ounces per day. Chicken is preferable to red meat, and avoid all smoked meats, as they contain unhealthy additives.
- Keep tabs on your cholesterol levels. The AHA recommends that healthy grown-ups aged 20 and older should receive cholesterol tests every five years. Those who are at high risk of heart disease should be tested more frequently. Don’t wait for warning signs or symptoms to occur. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
- Get regular exercise. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate level exercise five times per week. Start off slowly, and gradually advance to a fast paced walk or jog. You’ll feel better, look better, and your heart will thank you.
- Avoid added sugars. Studies show that too many sweets and starches increase the risk of heart disease. The AHA suggests consuming only 100 calories of added sugar per day for women, and 150 for men. That’s not a lot of sugar. Your body doesn’t need it to function correctly, and it only adds pounds to your mid-section.
- Eat lots of fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy items. Buckle down and eat more of the foods that you know are good for you. Eat a colorful variety of fruits and veggies. These are the best sources of vitamins and fiber, and you should have 4-1/2 cups per day. Avoid frozen and canned options – opt for fresh whenever possible. It is also good to add some low- or non-fat dairy products to your diet each day, and to limit whole milk products.
- Read, read, read food labels, before you buy. Many food products contain hidden fats, sugars and unhealthy additives. Be sure to do your math, too. Labels list serving sizes and calories, so a little multiplication or division might be necessary to count calories.
- Avoid risk factors for diabetes. Diabetes is a big risk factor for heart disease, so if you can avoid this unhealthy disease, you can protect your heart at the same time. Watch your weight, resist physical inactivity, abstain from a diet high in unhealthy carbohydrates, and have your blood sugar checked annually.
Set small goals for yourself each day, and tackle them one-by-one. These seemingly small changes can make a big difference in the health of your heart.