Six Basic Steps to a Healthier Heart

by Melanie Thomassian Health Professional

Did you know that following a healthy diet and keeping physically active could help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease? Making healthy changes to your lifestyle can also increase your chances of survival following a heart attack.

However, you may be wondering what a healthy diet for heart disease is. First and foremost, healthy eating is about getting the balance right. This doesn't have to mean cutting out all of what you enjoy, but it does mean eating foods in proportions that will improve your health long-term.

Here are a few basics of a 'heart healthy' diet:

1. Fruits and Vegetables

It has been estimated that eating at least five portions of fruits and vegetables each day could reduce the risk of death from chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer by up to 20%. To receive maximum benefit from the wonderful nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables, choose from a variety of different produce each day, rather than sticking with the same options.

2. Starchy Carbohydrates

Eating whole grains is thought to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and can also help to lower blood cholesterol levels. Around one third of our meals should be based on carbohydrate, with roughly one half of these grains being whole. Opt for wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta, and wholegrain rice wherever possible.

3. Oily fish

Regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, and to improve our chances of survival following a heart attack.Theomega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are thought to help the heart beat more regularly, reduce triglyceride levels, and prevent blood clots from forming in the coronary arteries. Aim to have two portions of fish per week (a portion is about 3.5 oz). One portion should be white fish, and one portion should be oily fish. Examples of oily fish include trout, salmon, herring, mackerel, or fresh tuna.

4. Fats

Our bodies do require some fat for normal functioning, however most people eat far more than what is required. Reducing the total amount of saturated fat we eat can help to reduce our blood cholesterol levels.

Try to include lean meat, fish and poultry, along with low or reduced fat dairy products, and moderate amounts of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated margarine spreads and oils in your diet.

5. Salt

If you have high blood pressure, it is very wise to reduce your salt intake. Recommendations suggest aiming for a salt intake of no more than 6g per day, (2400 mg). This is about one level teaspoon of salt and includes both the salt we add in cooking and at the table, and the also sodium already present in the foods we eat.

6. Exercise

Exercise is very important for a healthy heart. However, if you've been inactive for some time it is important to start slowly, building up your strength gradually. You may want to start with five minutes of activity four times each week, gradually building this up to a level which you can tolerate.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity five of more days each week. Remember that any increase in your current activity levels will be beneficial for your health in the long-term.

Melanie Thomassian
Meet Our Writer
Melanie Thomassian

Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.