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Getting Results From a Heart-Healthy Diet

In the quest for a healthy heart, lower blood pressure, and low cholesterol, you've committed to eating right, exercising, and maintaining your weight.

Maybe you're also adding known heart-helpers to your diet, like omega-3-rich foods, fiber, and plant sterols.

What you want to know now is two things: When will you see results, and what kind of results will you see?

What Kind of Heart-Healthy Results Will You See?

First, it's important to know that multiple lifestyle changes are vital for healthier living. Steps like a balanced diet, physical activity, weight maintenance, and stress reduction work cooperatively, and have an accumulative effect. One change may make a small difference, but many little changes add up to significant results.

What sort of results? The answers depend on the heart-healthy changes you make and on your own unique makeup.

  • DASH diet: If you follow the Dash diet -- eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods and less red meat, sweets, saturated fat, and sodium -- you may lower your blood pressure by eight to 14 points.
  • TLC diet: By reducing saturated fat to 7% of calories, dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg a day, and adding 2 grams of plant sterols/stanols and 5 to 10 more grams of fiber to your daily diet, you may reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol by 20%.
  • Weight loss: If you lose weight (BMI of 18.5-24.9), you may see a five to 20 point reduction in blood pressure and a 5% to 8% drop in LDL cholesterol.
  • Exercise: If you get 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week, you may see a two to eight point reduction in blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and higher HDL "good" cholesterol.
  • Stress reduction: Biofeedback, relaxation, and other relaxation techniques may reduce high blood pressure by three to five points, improve sleep, and possibly result in some weight loss.

The long-term heart health benefits from these lifestyle changes can be huge. Controlling your blood pressure alone can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 20% to 25%, lower your risk of stroke by 35% to 40%, and cut your risk of heart failure by 50%.

When Will You See Heart-Healthy Results?

Give yourself at least three months to see results, though you may see changes as quickly as three to four weeks. 

Your health care provider will probably recommend you wait at least three months before following up with lab work.

Better Heart Health: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

It is important to work closely with your health care provider. Questions you might want to ask your health care provider include:

  • What are my target blood pressure and cholesterol levels? 
  • How close am I to my target blood pressure and cholesterol levels? 
  • What should I do if the results aren't what I expected? 
  • Can a referral to a dietitian help me meet my goals? 
  • Can I reach my blood pressure and cholesterol goals with lifestyle changes alone? 
  • Should I have blood work to check for gaps in my diet, like vitamin D and calcium? 
  • With my current diet and exercise level can I reasonably expect to reach my cholesterol and blood pressure goals? 
  • At what point will we consider medications to help control my blood pressure or cholesterol? 
  • After reaching my target goals, will I be able to stop medications? 
  • When should I have my next checkup?

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on September 21, 2012
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