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Not Smoking as Part of a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Not smoking is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. A heart healthy lifestyle also includes following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and being physically active.

Following a Healthy Diet

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, eggs, poultry without skin, seafood, 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, such as soda.

Also, 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). Examples of refined grains include white rice and white bread.

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 ChooseMyPlate.gov Web site. Both resources provide general information about healthy eating.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of 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'll gain weight
  • More energy OUT than energy IN over time, you'll 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's important.

Being Physically Active

Physical activity also is part of a heart healthy lifestyle. Physical activity is good for many parts of your body and can lower your risk for health problems.

Many Americans are not active enough. The good news, though, is that even modest amounts of physical activity are good for your health. The more active you are, the more you'll benefit.

The four main types of physical activity are aerobic, muscle-strengthening, bone strengthening, and stretching. You can do physical activity with light, moderate, or vigorous intensity. The level of intensity depends on how hard you have to work to do the activity.

For major health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Another option is to do a combination of both.

You don't have to do the activity all at once. You can break it up into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. Running, swimming, walking, bicycling, dancing, and doing jumping jacks are examples of aerobic activity.

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

You also should talk with 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 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans," the Health Topics Physical Activity and Your Heart article, and the NHLBI's "Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart."

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December 20, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.