Maintaining a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight, losing weight is another important factor in good cardiovascular health. Carrying extra weight puts additional strain on your heart. Also, as people gain weight, their blood pressure and cholesterol tends to rise. Losing weight can make high blood pressure and cholesterol drop back down.
Your healthcare providers can help you pick a diet and exercise program that's right for you and your weight loss goals. To lose weight, a low-fat, low-cholesterol, and low-salt diet is usually recommended, along with an exercise program.
(Click BMI Calculator to find your healthy weight. You can also visit Obesity and Heart Disease or Weight and Heart Disease for more information.)
Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet
People interested in cardiovascular health should follow a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet means a diet that's low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber. It doesn't mean that you can never have pizza or ice cream again. Experts point out that a heart-healthy diet should be the routine. That way, when you have high-fat food every now and then, you're still on track. Making a high-fat diet the routine is asking for trouble.
A heart-healthy diet includes the following:
- About 8 to 10 percent of the day's total calories from saturated fat.
- About 30 percent or less of the day's total calories from fat.
- Less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day.
- Limiting sodium intake to 2,400 milligrams a day.
- Eating just enough calories to achieve or maintain a healthy weight and reduce your blood cholesterol level. (Ask your doctor or registered dietitian to recommend a calorie level that is right for you.)
For those who smoke, quitting is extremely important for good cardiovascular health. Smokers have more than twice the risk of having a heart attack or stroke as nonsmokers. According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death, and smokers who have a heart attack or stroke are more likely to die than nonsmokers who have a heart attack.
The good news is that quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.
(Click Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease for more information.)