Updated: March 18, 2020
Heart disease is one of the most serious health conditions affecting people in the United States. It’s possible to lower your risk of heart disease, but following a heart healthy lifestyle is key. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the three major risk factors of heart disease — and nearly half of all Americans have at least one of them.1 Understanding how to keep your heart healthy is important: It could help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Not sure where to start? Try these seven healthy heart tips.
1. Get moving 3-5 times per week
Being physically active can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).2 The AHA and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week.3
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Try this: Aerobic exercises are any activities that increase your breathing and heart rate, like brisk walking, swimming and dancing. If you’re just starting to try new activities, it’s OK to start slowly! Start with 5-10 minutes of activity each day and gradually work your way up to longer or more intense exercise sessions. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for helpful tips.
2. Follow a heart healthy, balanced diet
Eating healthily doesn’t mean you need to give up your favorite foods. The AHA recommends enjoying a diet that emphasizes:4
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes and nuts
- Low-fat dairy products
- Proteins, like poultry, fish and lean cuts of red meat
- Whole grains
If you’re following the Jenny Craig program, you’re already enjoying portion-friendly meals that include these heart-healthy ingredients.
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- Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat
- Foods high in sodium
- Sugar-sweetened drinks
Eating an excess of high-fat, high-sodium and high-sugar foods may contribute to high blood pressure, weight gain, obesity and diabetes, which are all additional risk factors for heart disease.1
Try this: Watch out for hidden calories in desserts and sweets. Trade sweetened beverages for non-caloric ones like sparkling water and unsweetened iced tea with fruit, or make your own infused water by adding fresh strawberries and raspberries, mint and thyme, or lemon and lime wedges.
3. Lower your cholesterol levels
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the “good” type that can lower your risk for a stroke and heart disease.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the “bad” type that can raise your risk for a stroke and heart disease. Most of the cholesterol in your body is LDL cholesterol, which is why it’s so important to keep your levels in check.
If your cholesterol levels are less than ideal, be vigilant about eating right and exercising regularly to keep it under control. Some people, though, may still need medication.
Try this: To better manage your cholesterol levels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:5
- Getting your cholesterol levels tested every 4-6 years, unless your doctor indicates otherwise. It’s wise to talk with your doctor about getting a cholesterol test, especially if you have a family history of heart disease, the CDC says.
- Making healthy food choices by limiting saturated fat-rich foods and reaching for high-fiber foods and ones containing unsaturated fat instead.
- Being active most days to keep your heart healthy. Try walking around the block, taking the stairs or lifting a pair of light dumbbells at home.
- Avoiding smoking and using tobacco products, which can greatly increase your risk for heart disease.
4. Manage your blood pressure
If you’re not sure how to read your blood pressure numbers, here’s a quick overview:7
- You’ll typically see two numbers written as a fraction, as in 120/80 (or “120 over 80”).
- The top number (120) represents your systolic pressure, or the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
- The bottom number (80) represents your blood pressure when your heart is between beats.
- If your blood pressure numbers are higher than what’s recommended, it means your heart is working too hard to move blood throughout your body. This is an indication of high blood pressure, which can range from 130/80 to 140/90.7
The only way to tell if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured. Because the symptoms of high blood pressure aren’t easily noticeable, it’s recommended to get your numbers checked regularly. If you have trouble keeping your blood pressure under control, work with your healthcare provider to find a solution.
Try this: Making healthy lifestyle changes, including participating in regular exercise, reaching a healthy weight and lowering your stress levels can all help to keep your blood pressure from climbing too high.8 In addition, try to limit your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day or less9 (that’s about 1 teaspoon of salt) and enjoy fruits and vegetables that are good sources of potassium, like avocados, bananas and spinach.10 Research shows potassium helps counteract the effects of high sodium on blood pressure.11
5. Watch out for high blood sugar
High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, happens when the body doesn’t have enough insulin, or when it’s unable to use insulin properly.11 Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose (sugar) to be used for energy. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. If your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin, they can’t absorb glucose from your blood efficiently, a condition known as insulin resistance.12 And if your body can’t produce the right amount of insulin, excess glucose stays in your bloodstream, which could eventually lead to prediabetes, and later, Type 2 diabetes.13
High blood sugar can damage blood vessels, as well as the nerves that control blood vessels and the heart.13 As a result, diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease. According to the National Institute of Health, the longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to develop heart disease.14
Prediabetes (when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal) and diabetes may not have noticeable symptoms early on. Understanding how your blood sugar levels change and how you can manage them is an important step if you have prediabetes or have a family history of diabetes.
- Being overweight
- Being 45 or over
- A family history of diabetes
- Having high blood pressure
- Having low HDL cholesterol levels or high triglyceride levels
- Being of African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Asian American descent
6. Snuff out cigarettes
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Smoking is linked to heart disease — chemicals in tobacco affect your blood cells, heart function and the structure and function of blood vessels.15 When combined with other risk factors (high cholesterol, high blood pressure and being overweight), smoking can boost your risk of heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.16 Even if you’re not a smoker, secondhand smoke can have negative effects on your health by increasing your risks for heart disease and stroke.16
Try this: Quitting can be difficult, but there are many cessation methods available. Consider trying nicotine patches, chewing gum or lozenges, or joining a support group. Visit smokefree.gov to find the right option for you.
7. Reach and maintain a healthy weight
When it comes to weight loss and maintenance, exercise and a healthy diet go hand in hand. Regular exercise burns calories and strengthens muscles and eating nutritious foods in the right portions could help you drop pounds and maintain your weight.
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Losing 5% to 10% of your weight could be beneficial for your heart health. One study found that participants who lost weight within this range saw improvements in their blood sugar, blood pressure and HDL cholesterol levels, allowing them to successfully lower their cardiovascular disease risk.17
To lose weight, you’ll want to create a calorie deficit, which means your body will use more calories than it takes in. If you’re wondering how much physical activity and food you’ll need for weight loss, the 80/20 rule for weight loss could help: It focuses 80% of your efforts on reducing your calories through diet and the other 20% through exercise.
Try this: If you already have your exercise routine down, consider this: A key component of weight loss and management is enjoying delicious, balanced meals, thoughtful portion sizes and having personal support — everything that Jenny Craig offers. In fact, a two-year clinical trial examining the Jenny Craig program found that participants lost an average of 10% of their initial weight after one year and an average of 7% after two years.18
Jenny Craig’s convenient program offers ready-to-go, chef-crafted foods that don’t require any calorie counting or messy prep work. You’ll also receive dedicated, one-on-one support from a knowledgeable weight loss coach throughout your journey.
To get started living a heart-healthy life and learn how Jenny Craig can help, book a free appointment today!
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig and has written for the health and wellness, tech, and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. They employ an “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoy the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find them photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.
Favorite healthy snack: green apple slices with sunflower butter
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.