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Heart-Healthy Diet and Exercise

Steps for Making Heart-Healthy Diet and Lifestyle Changes

How do you start to make the changes to help your heart?

People make changes in all different ways.  Many people can feel so overwhelmed by a long list of what they need to do that they do nothing at all.

Your goal is to get past that feeling of being overwhelmed and begin -- slowly -- to make changes that will benefit your heart health. These five steps can help.

1.Assess yourself and create your overall heart-healthy plan.

What are your risk factors? Which changes would lower these risk factors? If you've tried to make changes in the past but failed, what prevented you from implementing the change? What obstacles to change exist in your life now: Time? Money? Lack of social support? Busy schedule? Are you ready to make these changes?

2.Pick one heart healthy-lifestyle area to start with.

Yes, you'll probably need to make many lifestyle changes overall. But you're more likely to have success if you start to work on them one at a time. Write down one goal, including what you want to accomplish and the steps it takes to get you there. Try to come up with a timetable for making the changes.

3.Line up your resources and supporters.

Many health care professionals can help with lifestyle changes. Your doctor can steer you to these resources. Dietitians can help you determine ways to follow the DASH or TLC meal plans. Health educators, nurses, and counselors can help you with strategies for all the lifestyle changes. Friends, family, or co-workers who have "been there" can lend their own advice and support. Your employer or health care insurance plan may have support groups, gym memberships, and other programs you can take advantage of for little or no cost.

4. Start with a few small healthy changes and make them part of your routine.

Let's say you want to try the heart-healthy DASH diet. You know you need to add more fruit and vegetables to your meals, but how should you start? If you only eat a vegetable at dinnertime, try adding one at lunchtime, too. Have fruit as a snack instead of chips or cookies. Perhaps you want to add exercise into your life. You could start by parking your car further away at work or when shopping. Repeat these changes every day. Soon you may even find yourself looking forward to your fruit snack in the midmorning or your time to walk out to the back of the parking lot after work.

5. Reward yourself and keep at it.

Rewards can help you stay motivated and keep you moving onto the next change. After you've made a lifestyle change part of your daily routine, celebrate: Rent a movie. Go to a concert. Visit with a friend. Read. Take a trip to the beach. Then get ready to choose and start on another goal.

What might at first have seemed overwhelming can end up becoming an enjoyable, new way of living. And the benefit -- a healthier heart -- is well worth your effort.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on March 23, 2013

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