(This post was originally published on February 15, 2018 and updated on July 10, 2019).
We all know that eating healthy can help to reduce your risk of heart disease-- and your waistline! But did you know that heart-healthy foods can be delicious? ! And it's easier than you may think!Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. However, the good news is it's never too late to adopt healthy changes that can lead to long-term results. In fact, 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable through education and action.
Healthy Diet and Lifestyle
A well-balanced, heart-healthy diet is beneficial to people of all ages but especially crucial for older adults.
The American Heart Association can help make it easy to remember with their “Life’s Simple 7”:
- Eating better, which can stave off chronic disease. Steps include increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Maintaining a healthy weight because this can reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and bones.
- Exercising, which can help with your cholesterol levels, weight, and muscle tone.
- Quitting cigarettes because even one can hurt you.
- Managing blood pressure because unhealthy ranges strain the heart, arteries, and kidneys.
- Maintaining cholesterol to give your arteries the best chance to stay clear of fatty blockages that reduce blood flow.
- Reducing blood sugar to lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Home-delivered meals are an easy way to ensure you are getting meals that are low in salt, sugar, fat, and cholesterol. These heart-healthy home-delivered meals are often a benefit on several Medicare Advantage plans. Many people with chronic conditions may qualify to receive meals too. Check with your healthcare plan to see if you are eligible.
Smart Meal Choices
You always hear the healthiest part of any grocery store is the outer ring. The outer ring is where all of the meats, fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are found. It is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to maintain a heart-healthy diet. For increased heart health, consider limiting high-fat dairy products and limit meat choices to low-fat cuts. Make sure to aim for the daily recommended intake from the USDA.
- Fruits, 2 cups a day with a focus on fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.
- Vegetables, 2 1/2 cups a day with a focus on a colorful rainbow of fresh, frozen, and canned.
- Grains, 6 ounces a day with a focus on whole grains.
- Protein, 5 1/2 ounces a day with a focus on lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, seeds, and eggs.
- Dairy, 3 cups a day with a focus on fat-free milk, yogurt, and soy beverages.
The following is recommended on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Remember to consult your doctor first.
For meal planning ideas, go here for some tasty heart-healthy recipes!
Make Snacking Count
You don't have to miss your snack time! Here's a list of some heart-healthy snacks (in moderation, of course)!
- Nuts - Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, and walnuts are good choices. They pack plenty of protein and are high in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Sipping coffee and tea are soothing beverages with benefits. Studies show that green tea can help to reduce blood pressure. Other studies indicate that coffee may decrease the risk of heart failure or stroke.
- Berries - During summer, yummy berries are plentiful! They are a great source of fiber, iron, folate, calcium, and vitamins A and C.
- Dark Chocolate - Scientists believe the dark chocolate may help protect against atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up in the arteries, raising the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Exercise for Long-Term Health
If a heart-healthy diet is the peanut butter, then exercise would be the jelly in a heart-healthy PB & J lifestyle sandwich! The thought of starting a new exercise routine can be overwhelming, but it does not have to be. Start with American Heart Association's minimum goal of 30 minutes a day of moderate activity at least five days a week.
- Pick activities that you find enjoyable.
- Make sure you choose activities that can be year-round.
- Include friends and relatives; having a buddy increases your likelihood of maintaining your new activity.
- Dress in comfortable clothes.
- Always remember to hydrate during your activity.
Once you're ready to get started, here's the best activities for optimum heart health:
- Aerobic Exercise - such as walking, swimming, biking, tennis, and running. Raising your heart rate improves circulation and can lower blood pressure. Aerobic activity can also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and control blood glucose levels for those currently managing diabetes.
- Strength Training - using free weights, resistance bands, or body-resistance movements like push-ups and squats. Strength training can help to reduce fat and result in leaner muscle mass. This will also to help reduce abdominal fat, which can you put you at risk for heart disease). Combining strength and aerobic exercise is also beneficial in raising good cholesterol and lowering the bad!
- Flexibility, Balance, & Stretching - yoga and Tai Chi classes can help you increase your flexibility and balance, which is crucial to reduce your fall risk. Gentle stretching movements are relaxing and can add that extra spring to your step!
Over time, you will find your stamina increase, and your current activity is more comfortable to complete. That is why it is essential to start out small and gradually increase as you improve. We always recommend consulting with your doctor first.
Download our guide below for tips on how to make your next trip to the grocery easier to find healthy foods!