What does it take to have a healthy heart? A lot depends on you, and your risk factors. If you imagine that healthy living means a bland diet and hours at the gym, you might be surprised to learn how simple, everyday choices can make a big difference.
You probably know that the basics of heart health include:
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- Getting regular physical activity
- Stopping or avoiding smoking
- Managing stress
- Controlling your risk factors
If this seems like a lot to keep in mind, remember that you can make small changes in each of these areas and still improve your health.
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Everyday Tips for Better Heart Health
The best place to start is at your doctor’s office, where you can learn about your risk factors. Your doctor can give you tips on how to make changes to your diet, activity level, and other habits that can help lower your risks. Some tips may include:
- Starting the day with a healthy breakfast. Choose whole grains and fruit, like oatmeal and berries, or blend a smoothie with low-fat Greek yogurt and your favorite fruits.
- Eating one more piece of fruit or vegetable than you usually do. You can add fruit to your breakfast, make a salad with dinner, or swap a packaged snack for an apple or baby carrots.
- Adding fish to your diet. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish with omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout, or albacore tuna, per week.
- Never missing a chance to move. Take the stairs, go for a walk at lunchtime, or park at the back of the lot when shopping or running errands.
- Breaking up activity into smaller portions of time. Go for a 10-minute walk at lunchtime, then another 10-minute walk after dinner. You can gradually increase your activity over time.
- Making activity fun. Being physically active doesn’t have to mean spending hours on a treadmill, and you’re more likely to stay active if you enjoy what you’re doing. Go ahead and dance, swim, hike, ride a bicycle, or just play with your kids in the yard.
- Relaxing the healthy way. Find a hobby you enjoy, like gardening, knitting, or walking instead of relieving stress with food, tobacco, or alcohol.
- Limiting your alcohol intake. Some studies have shown that moderate drinkers have lower risks for heart disease than heavy drinkers.
- Quitting smoking and using tobacco products. It’s never too late to quit.
- Flossing your teeth. Some studies have shown a link between dental hygiene and heart health.
- Keeping regular appointments with your doctor. This way, you can keep an eye on your weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar, which are all risk factors for heart disease.
- Taking it slow. Begin by making a few changes, then adding more over time so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
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The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.