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Heart-Healthy Diet and Exercise

Your doctor says you need to make some changes in your life, especially with your diet and exercise.

Perhaps you're wondering: Will it really make a difference? Do you really need to make those changes if you're taking medicine for your heart?

Recommended Related to Hypertension

Understanding High Blood Pressure -- Prevention

You can prevent high blood pressure and lower your odds of getting heart disease by making a few changes in your lifestyle. Follow these four tips: 1. Watch what you eat. Stay away from salt and saturated fats. Focus instead on foods that are high in fiber, calcium, and magnesium. A healthy diet consists of lots of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. 2. Get plenty of exercise. Regular aerobic workouts condition the heart and keep blood vessels working properly. It's also wise to be...

Read the Understanding High Blood Pressure -- Prevention article > >

The answer is yes. Your lifestyle does matter -- a lot.

Try DASH or TLC

Your doctor, or a dietitian, should have given you guidelines for your diet. They may have mentioned DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is about lowering blood pressure, or TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes), which focuses on lowering your cholesterol levels.

On either plan, you'll:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat less total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Limit the amount of red meat, sweets, and sweetened beverages you eat.

Another cornerstone is cutting back on salt.

Lowering the amount of salt you eat can help lower the amount of fluid your body holds onto. This lowers your blood pressure and makes it easier for your heart to do its work. Getting no more than 1,500 milligrams per day (about a quarter-teaspoon of table salt) helps the most.

Try these tips:

  • Read labels. Look for "salt," "sodium," "sea salt," and "kosher salt."
  • Rinse salty canned food such as tuna before using it.
  • Substitute herbs and spices for sodium and salt when cooking.
  • Avoid instant or flavored side dishes, which usually have a lot of added sodium. Instead, try cooking plain rice, pasta, or grains without adding salt. You can add other flavorings or a bit of salt when you serve them.
  • Look for "low sodium" on food labels.
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