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

You probably want to know two things: When will you see results, and what kind of results will you see?

Remember that all the things you're doing -- diet, physical activity, weight maintenance, and stress reduction -- work together. Many little changes add up to significant results.

Results to Work Toward

Take a look at what the research shows about the results from heart-healthy diets and other lifestyle habits:

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, dropping dietary cholesterol to less than 200 milligrams 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 (to a body mass index 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 5 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 and relaxation techniques may reduce high blood pressure by three to five points, improve sleep, and result in some weight loss.

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

How Long It Takes

Give yourself at least 3 months to see results, though you may see changes as quickly as 3 weeks.

Your doctor will probably recommend you wait at least 3 months before following up with lab work. She can also give you a referral to a dietitian, if you want more help with changing the way you eat in order to reach your goals.

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