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Physical Activity as Part of a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Physical activity is one part of a heart healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle also involves maintaining a healthy weight, following a healthy diet, and not smoking.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease, even if you have no other risk factors. Overweight or obesity also raises your risk for other diseases that play a role in heart disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Your weight is the result of a balance between energy IN and energy OUT. Energy IN is the energy, or calories, you take in from food. Energy OUT is the energy you use for things like breathing, digestion, and physical activity.

If you have:

  • The same amount of energy IN and energy OUT over time, your weight stays the same
  • More energy IN than energy OUT over time, you will gain weight
  • More energy OUT than energy IN over time, you will lose weight

To maintain a healthy weight, your energy IN and energy OUT should balance each other. They don't have to be the same every day; it's the balance over time that matters.

Balancing energy IN and energy OUT with diet or physical activity alone is possible. However, research shows that being physically active AND following a healthy diet is a better way to reach and stay at a healthy weight.

People who want to lose more than 5 percent of their body weight need to do a lot of physical activity unless they also reduce their calorie intake. The same is true for people who are trying to keep off a lot of weight that they have lost.

Many people need to do more than 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity activity a week to meet their weight-control goals.

Follow a Healthy Diet

Following a healthy diet can help you maintain good health. A healthy diet includes a variety of vegetables and fruits. These foods can be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. A good rule is to try to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.

A healthy diet also includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and protein foods, such as lean meats, poultry without skin, seafood, processed soy products, nuts, seeds, beans, and peas.

Choose and prepare foods with little sodium (salt). Too much salt can raise your risk for high blood pressure. Studies show that following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can lower blood pressure.

Try to avoid foods and drinks that are high in added sugars. For example, drink water instead of sugary drinks, like soda.

Also, try to limit the amount of solid fats and refined grains that you eat. Solid fats are saturated fat and trans fatty acids. Refined grains come from processing whole grains, which results in a loss of nutrients (such as dietary fiber).

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and triglyceride level. (Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.) Alcohol also adds extra calories, which can cause weight gain.

For more information about following a healthy diet, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's (NHLBI's) “Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH” and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Web site. Both resources provide general information about healthy eating.

Don't Smoke

People who smoke are up to six times more likely to have a heart attack than people who don't smoke. The risk of having a heart attack increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day.

Smoking also raises your risk for stroke and lung diseases, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and lung cancer.

Quitting smoking can greatly reduce your risk for heart and lung diseases. Ask your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.

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.

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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Last Updated: September 26, 2011