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Cardiovascular Health

How Nutrition, Exercise, and Stress Management Affect Heart Health

The road to a healthy heart involves both your mind and body. Healthful eating and regular physical activity can help you decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, which are some of the leading risk factors for developing heart disease. 


Caroline Susie, RDN, LD

National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Take a step in the right direction by eating foods with dietary fiber, such as oats, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Incorporating healthful foods into your meals now can help decrease your risk of heart disease in the future.  

Home-cooked meals gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic and gave many people the opportunity to create delicious, heart-healthy dishes. 

If you’re looking to make this trend a lifelong habit, start by planning your meals to include foods from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and proteins. Fruits and vegetables should comprise half of your plate, and you should choose whole-grain foods — such as brown rice or whole grain bread — whenever possible to increase the amount of dietary fiber you consume. Also make sure to also drink plenty of fluids to help your body adjust to a higher amount of fiber. 

Read the nutrition facts label on foods you buy, and limit the amounts of salt, added sugars, and saturated fat in your diet. You can decrease the amount of saturated fat you eat by choosing leaner cuts of meat and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. 

Mental health

A healthy mind also plays a big role in maintaining a healthy heart. Manage your stress by getting enough sleep and practicing relaxation techniques. Health benefits associated with regular physical activity include reduced anxiety and improved sleep, according to the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.” Regular physical activity may also help you manage your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels — all things that are important for a healthy heart.

The “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” recommends adults participate in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, and include muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. Choose activities according to your ability and ones that you enjoy so you will stick with them. Check with your health-care provider before increasing physical activity.

For more tips, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ online Find a Nutrition Expert service to find a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help you create a nutrition and physical activity plan that fits your lifestyle.  

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