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Heart-Healthy Diet and Exercise

Smoking and Your Heart continued...

You might think you're safe if you use low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes. But any kind of smoking can lead to heart attacks. Even if you're not a smoker but breathe in smoke from those around you (secondhand smoke), you're at risk.

Your only healthy solution is to quit. That may be easier said than done, but just because it's hard doesn't mean it's impossible. Most people attempt to quit several times before they are successful. If you're persistent, you will achieve success, too.

Smoking is one risk factor where you might need a little help. Talk to your doctor about medications that reduce your craving for nicotine. Also, you can find programs and support groups through many organizations, including the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, local health care groups, and maybe even at your workplace.

Within a few days of quitting, you'll benefit in these ways:

  • Your blood pressure will start to go down.
  • The oxygen levels in your blood will return to normal.
  • The carbon monoxide levels in your blood will return to normal.

And within a year, you're likely to notice these advantages:

  • Coughing will decrease
  • Shortness of breath will decrease
  • Your breathing will improve
  • Your blood flow will improve

Maintain a Healthy Weight to Help Your Heart

By itself, being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. Even worse, people who are obese are more likely than normal-weight people to die from heart disease.

People who are overweight are also more likely to have sleep apnea, a medical condition in which you stop breathing for short times frequently throughout sleep. Sleep apnea puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure.

On the other hand, taking steps to get back toward your ideal weight range can reduce your risk of heart problems. Even a small weight loss of 5% to 10% of your current weight can have these heart-healthy benefits:

  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Lower your risk of heart attack
  • Lower your LDL bad cholesterol and raise your HDL good cholesterol blood levels
  • Lower your triglyceride blood levels
  • Lower your risk for other serious health problems that can affect your heart health, such as diabetes or sleep apnea

What is your ideal weight? Your doctor can help you determine this. 

Weight loss is easiest to achieve and maintain when you do it slowly and gradually, losing no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. Your best bet is to combine these two strategies:

  • Eat about 500 to 1,000 fewer calories each day. Make sure to follow a heart-healthy diet, eating foods good for your heart. A great way to reduce calories is to cut back on the amount of fat and carbohydrates you eat.
  • Get more exercise, at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise is especially helpful in keeping weight gain from returning.

In some cases, your doctor may also suggest weight loss drugs to help with your weight management plan.

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