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The DASH Eating Plan as Part of a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Making other heart healthy lifestyle changes while following the DASH eating plan is the best way to prevent or control high blood pressure. For example, try to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, make healthy eating choices, and don't smoke.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. If you're overweight or obese, you can lose weight while following the DASH eating plan. By reducing your daily calorie intake by 500 to 1,000 calories, you can slowly lose weight.

A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is do-able, safe, and will help you keep off the weight. To create a weight-loss or weight-maintenance plan that's right for you, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

For more information about maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight, go to the Health Topics Overweight and Obesity article.

Be Physically Active

Physical activity also is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. You can benefit from as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Walking is an excellent heart healthy activity. The more active you are, the more you'll benefit.

You can do aerobic activity with light, moderate, or vigorous intensity. If you choose activities at a moderate intensity level, aim to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) per week. If you choose vigorous-intensity activities, do at least 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) per week. You can do these activities for 10 minutes or more at a time. In addition, try to include muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week.

Children and youth should do 1 hour (60 minutes) or more of physical activity every day; at least 3 days per week the activity should be of vigorous intensity. A great way to encourage physical activity is to do it as a family.

To get started and stay active, make physical activity part of your daily routine, keep track of your progress, and be active and safe.

If you have a heart problem or chronic disease—such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes—ask your doctor what types of physical activity are safe for you.

You also should ask your doctor about safe physical activities if you have symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness.

For more information about physical activity, go to the Health Topics Physical Activity and Your Heart article.

Make Healthy Eating Choices

Reduce Sodium

While following the DASH eating plan, choose and prepare foods with less sodium (salt). Be creative—try herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, and salt-free seasoning blends while cooking and at the table to add flavor to your foods. For examples of how to season foods without using salt, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI’s) Flavor That Food Web page.

Most of the sodium that people eat comes from processed foods. So, make sure you read the Nutrition Facts label on prepared foods to check the amount of sodium in each item.

For more information about how to read a Nutrition Facts label, see boxes 10 and 11 in the NHLBI’s "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH."

Buy low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no salt added versions of foods when they're available. Rinse all canned vegetables and beans before cooking and eating them.

Increase Potassium-Rich Foods

The DASH eating plan includes foods rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables, to help keep blood pressure levels healthy. In general, potassium should come from food sources only, not supplements. To find information on the potassium content of selected foods, search the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/external link iconexternal link icon.

Reduced-sodium products and salt substitutes likely contain potassium chloride as a main ingredient. This substance may harm people who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease. Check with your doctor before trying reduced-sodium products and salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride.

Limit Alcohol

If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation: up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. A drink equals 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Don't Smoke

If you smoke or use tobacco, quit. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, and digestive organs. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.

Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking. Ask your family and friends to support you in your efforts to quit.

For more information about how to quit smoking, go to the Health Topics Smoking and Your Heart article and the NHLBI’s "Your Guide to a Healthy Heart."

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June 6, 2014