The essential steps to a heart healthy lifestyle

If you’ve gotten the message that you should incorporate 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity into your workday to reduce the health risks associated with inactivity, good job.  Keep taking the stairs and walking as much as possible.

But don’t stop there.  Other steps are important for achieving a heart healthy lifestyle.

“Diet, exercise and even a positive attitude are all factors that can help you avoid heart disease,” says Dr. Karol Watson, Director of the UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center, and Co-Director of the UCLA Program in Preventive Cardiology.

How to get started? Begin with small, incremental changes, Watson says.

Eat well.
Go for nutrient-rich foods from a wide range of food groups.  Focus on eating meals or snacks with high-protein such as white meat, fish, eggs, low-fat milk and soy.  Good fats are OK.  These include avocado, nuts and peanut butter.  Don’t forget to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

When it comes to starches, stick to complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans and most vegetables. They’ll keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.

The best fish for heart health are firm, fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, halibut and tuna. These have the highest levels of heart healthy omega 3 fats. If you don’t like fish, use fish oil supplements.

Limit or avoid certain foods. 
Saturated fat and trans fat can increase cholesterol, which can harm your heart. These are commonly found in margarines, partially hydrogenated vegetables fats, processed and fast foods.

Red meats taste great but are associated with worse health outcomes.  Choose white meat such as chicken or pork.

Sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grains like white rice, white bread or sweetened cereals are associated with more weight gain and worse health outcomes. Instead, eat whole grain foods such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and oatmeal.

Burn those calories throughout the day.
Exercise is key! Taking the stairs, walking while you’re on the phone, parking further away at the shopping center or work can help you get more exercise.  The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

Intensity is defined relative to an individual’s capacity, but some examples of moderate intensity activity are walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom dancing and gardening. Some examples of vigorous intensity activity include swimming laps, jumping rope, race walking or jogging, or hiking uphill.  Remember that you are in control of how you fit movement into your daily schedule.

Be optimistic!
Optimism has been shown to be associated with better health. Many studies have shown that heart patients with a healthier psychological state have better outcomes. And people with a positive outlook tend to have better health behaviors, which tend to lead to better overall health outcomes.

Know your heart’s health.
The best way to know if you’re “heart healthy” is to see your doctor for a physical examination to determine any heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of premature heart disease or diabetes.

Learn more and find an interventional cardiologist at the UCLA Women's Cardiovascular Center.

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