5 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Long-Term Heart Health

A healthy heart is the key to a long and prosperous life. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the two best weapons to fight heart disease are a healthy diet and lifestyle. Follow these simple steps to ensure long-term heart health.

1. Start by moving more.

  • Figure out how many calories you need to consume daily. Nutrition fact labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. You may need more or less depending on factors such as age, gender, and level of physical activity.
  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. A combination of the two is suggested as regular physical activity can help with weight loss and weight maintenance.
    • If your schedule does not allow for the typical workout session, try aiming for multiple sessions at least 10 minutes in length spread throughout the day.
    • If you are looking to lower your blood pressure and/or cholesterol, the AHA recommends 40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity three to four times per week.
    • Try these exercises that are good for overall heart health.

2. Eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods.

  • Nutrient-rich foods contain minerals, protein, and other essential nutrients in large quantities while being lower in calories. These foods can help with weight control, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
  • Your diet should emphasize:
    • A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
    • Whole-grain products
    • Low-fat dairy products
    • Lean protein choices (ie: skinless poultry and fish)
    • Nuts and legumes
    • Non-tropical vegetable oils
  • The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating pattern is recommended to help decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Follow this link to read more about the DASH diet.

3. Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.

  • You should limit foods and beverages high in calories and low in nutrients.
  • Food items you should limit:
    • Saturated fat and trans fat
    • Sodium
    • Red meat (can be eaten in moderation if the leanest cuts are chosen)
    • Sweets and other sugar-sweetened beverages

4. Base your eating pattern on these recommendations.

  • Try to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, and canned options are available. Opt out of high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars during preparation.
  • Choose fiber-rich whole grains.
  • Choose lean protein like poultry and fish. Prepare them in healthy ways without the skin to cut down on added saturated and trans fats. All meat choices should be the leanest cuts available.
  • Eat a fish at least twice per week. Aim for salmon, trout, or herring as these options are high in Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products.
  • Try to avoid all foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, as these items are high in trans fat.
  • Replace saturated fat in your diet with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fat intake should be no more than 5-6% of total calories.
  • Limit foods and beverages with added sugars.
  • Choose foods with less sodium and try to prepare foods with little or no added salt. In order to lower blood pressure, try to limit sodium to 2,400 milligrams or less per day. If you can, reducing your daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams can have extremely positive benefits to your blood pressure.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. This equates to no more than one drink per day as a woman and no more than two drinks per day as a man.
  • When eating out, watch your portion sizes and try to follow the AHA’s dietary recommendations as closely as possible.

5. Avoid tobacco and secondhand smoke.

  • Follow this link to learn more about quitting smoking.

If you are ready to make a lifestyle change to reduce your risk of heart disease, contact me for a free nutrition consultation! I will help you with a suggested meal plan or food options to maintain long-term heart health and improve your overall health and wellness!

Get a free nutrition consultation!

Sarah Brunner Registered Dietician at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian

Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.


May is Exercise is Medicine Month: How to use exercise to prevent disease

May 1st embarks the first day of the month-long journey known as Exercise is Medicine® Month. This is the time for you, your family, co-workers, friends and others to advocate and promote physical activity as a lifestyle change.

Exercise Is Medicine Logo

There is no question that regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do to keep your body healthy and strong. In fact, a large body of research confirms that performing moderate-intensity physical activity on a regular basis can help you live longer and reduce health problems. In fact, people who exercise can avoid many common health issues, including obesity and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Exercise also strengthens the muscles and bones, which can reduce your risk of osteoporosis as you grow older, and may even lower the risk of many diseases, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease and some cancers. Regular physical activity improves sleep, increases energy, lowers stress levels and helps you maintain your independence. As a healthy adult, the key for you to maximize the benefits of exercise is to find activities you really enjoy and to follow a well-designed program that you can stick with over the long-term.

Getting Started

  • Talk with your healthcare practitioner before starting an exercise program and ask for specific programming recommendations.
  • The goals of your program should be to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase muscle strength and endurance, and improve range of motion.
  • If you are new to exercise, choose low-impact activities such as walking, cycling or water exercises, which involve large muscles groups and can be done continuously. Fitness classes geared toward beginners also are a good choice. If you’ve been fairly active until now, however, you can choose from a wide range of activities, including running, swimming, boot camp classes and sports like tennis or basketball. The key is to find something you love so you’ll stick with it over time.
  • If your fitness level is low, start with shorter sessions (10 to 15 minutes) and gradually build up to at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week. If you are trying to lose weight, try to increase the amount of time you exercise to 60 minutes per day—research suggests this will help you shed unwanted pounds.
  • Perform some type of strength training and whole-body range-of-motion exercises two to three days per week. This could include circuit training, high-intensity interval training, traditional strength training and even yoga.
  • End each session with stretching exercises for the whole body. Consider taking a yoga or tai chi class for both flexibility and mind-body benefits.
  • Closely monitor your intensity level and stay within your recommended target heart-rate zone. Take frequent breaks during activity if needed.
  • Wear good-fitting, activity-appropriate shoes and comfortable clothing, and don’t forget to drink fluids before, during and after your activity to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Exercise Cautions

  • If your fitness level is low to begin with, start slowly and gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
  • Stop exercising immediately if you experience any pain or shortness of breath. Contact your physician if you experience chest pain, labored breathing or extreme fatigue.

Your exercise program should be modified to maximize the benefits while minimizing your risk of injury. Consider contacting a certified fitness professional who can work with you to establish realistic goals and design a safe and effective program that addresses your specific needs.

(From Exercise is Medicine®. View original resource.)