A heart-healthy lifestyle
Looking at the essential elements for cardiac conditioning
By Jamie Schultz
Nurse Practitioner in Cardiology, Marshfield Clinic
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Although you cannot change all of your risk factors for heart disease, you can follow a heart-healthy lifestyle to help prevent heart disease.
Regular exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. Recommendations include moderate exercise for 30-60 minutes most days of the week. In addition, remember that routine activities such as gardening, housekeeping, and walking provide heart benefits and count towards the total minutes of exercise for the day.
Not only is regular exercise part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, but combined with a heart-healthy diet, the benefit is even greater.
A heart-healthy diet should be rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables is between 5 and 10 per day. Legumes and certain fish like salmon and tuna may also help to reduce your risk of heart disease.
You are recommended, however, to stay away from foods with saturated fats and trans fats. Specifically, eat no more than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats. Examples of foods with saturated fat include red meat, dairy products, and palm oils. Examples of foods with trans fat include deep fried fast foods, bakery products, and margarine.
The appropriate beverage may also help to reduce your risk of heart disease. At the recommended amount, alcohol may help protect your heart. Women at any age and men over 65 years of age may consume up to one drink per day, and men under the age of 65 may consume up to two drinks of alcohol per day. Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol, however, may increase your risk of not only heart disease but other health issues as well.
Quitting smoking is highly encouraged as smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease. Any type of tobacco product—cigarettes, chew, smokeless tobacco, and low tar tobacco—can damage your heart and lead to narrowing of your heart arteries and other blood vessels.
Social smoking and secondhand smoke also are dangerous and can increase your risk of heart disease. Lastly, smoking or using other tobacco products may increase your risk for high blood pressure.
Without the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you are at a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression. In order to achieve this goal, it is recommended to have a sleep schedule of going to bed and waking up at about the same time and keeping your bedroom dark and quiet. The appropriate amount of sleep will help you to feel refreshed and more alert during the day.
Finally, regular screenings are important to heart health, and these include blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes screenings. This evaluation may occur during your annual exams or other recommended clinic visits to your provider.
Ideal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. If your blood pressure is not optimal, you may need additional follow-up appointments.
Cholesterol may be checked beginning at the age of 20 and every five years after if the cholesterol is normal. Some children and adults may need more frequent testing of cholesterol based on family history and previous screenings. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, so fasting blood glucose may be checked to screen for diabetes.
In summary, heart disease may be preventable with lifestyle modifications. Together, we can all help to reduce the harmful and possible fatal effects of this disease.
The pillars of a healthy heart
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a diet low in saturated fats and trans fats
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Consume alcohol in moderation
- Participate in regular health screenings
- Get seven to nine hours of sleep each night
- Avoid smoking