If you've been diagnosed with heart disease, making a laundry list of changes to your lifestyle may seem overwhelming. But remember, while there are some very important changes that should be made right away, such as quitting smoking and cutting back on drinking, other dietary changes and fitness goals can be reached one step at time with gradual small changes.
Here are 10 changes you can—and should—make to keep your heart disease in check. (And none of them are popping a pill.)
1. Quit smoking
If you've been diagnosed with heart disease and you're still smoking, you should make it your number one goal to quit. It's obviously not news that smoking does nasty things to your heart and whole body, but with heart disease, smoking complicates all of the other lifestyle changes you'll want to make. Your lungs will thank you too.
2. Eat good fats
This includes limiting the saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol and instead opting for healthier fats. The American Heart Association launched a Face the Fats campaign to help educate people in the United States on the benefits of eating heart-healthy fats. Choose olive oil, fish, avocados, and nuts to help improve your heart health.
3. Eat fish
A Northwestern University study suggests baked or broiled fish may lower heart failure risk for women. Fried fish, on the other hand, can hurt your heart. This adds more evidence to the growing body of research that suggests omega-3s in fish are fantastic for your heart. If you don't eat fish regularly, consider adding a fish oil or krill oil supplement to your diet. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week.
4. Eat those fruits and veggies
Fruits and vegetables are considered "functional foods" because they have a lot of chronic-disease fighting vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Add whole fruits and vegetables to every meal. You don't have to wake up and be a vegan tomorrow; just make little dietary changes every day. Add a sliced apple to your plate, or a banana, or some baby carrots. One trick to eating your veggies is to eat them before you eat the rest of your meal. Also keep in mind, if you drench your vegetables in butter or salt, you are taking away their nutritional value. For fruit, blueberries have been found to have extra heart-protecting powers.
5. Exercise more than 30 minutes daily
More and more research is showing that it's not what you weigh, but really how much you exercise. Research published in the American Heart Journal shows that a key consideration when examining mortality is your fitness level. The study examined coronary artery disease patients and found the fittest had the healthiest hearts. Fitness was measured by testing oxygen level, not body fat.
6. Get a social network
The last thing you may feel like doing after going through a major illness is reaching out and talking to people, but, social ties help keep your ticker ticking. After studying the effect of social isolation on mice that survived a heart attack, it seems lonely mice had a harder time recovering post-heart attack. The Ohio State University researchers found the socially isolated mice suffered higher degrees of emotional, neurological, and cardiac dysfunction when compared to the social mice.
7. Eat lean, white meats
Ditch the red and processed meats, which includes bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. A study in the journal Circulation reviewed 20 studies involving meat consumption in healthy adults. Combined, the studies involved more than one million adults. The conclusion was that just a small daily serving of processed meats like bacon was associated with a 42 percent greater risk of developing heart disease.
8. Reduce your stress
Consider taking up tai chi, yoga, or a regular meditation practice. Many heart failure patients develop insomnia and depression after a heart attack. Relaxation exercises have been proven to help reduce stress levels. Consider taking an eight-week class to help teach you how to introduce relaxation and meditation into your life.
9. Drink less booze
While a glass of red wine has shown great promise as being heart healthy, if you cross the line into higher consumption, you're doing your heart damage. Moderation is the key to alcohol.
10. Find love
We don't just mean romantic love. Find a hobby that makes you satisfied or spend more time playing with your children or grandchildren. Staying busy doing something you love will help your heart heal. Of course, solid loving relationships help too. Studies have proven that being married helps the heart. A recent study at University of Rochester reports those happily married had the best chance of long-term survival after heart issues.
Does this list seem like too much? Take your time so you don't get burned out trying to change your whole life in a day. Just choose one tip to focus on for the next week. Once you get in some good practice, you can keep adding more and more healthy lifestyle changes into your life.