Four Nearly Painless Ways to Improve Your Heart Health

Healthy Heart

Healthy Heart

Your doctor, spouse, children, coworkers and strangers all tell you the same thing about reducing your risk for heart disease:  Lose weight, exercise, quit smoking, stop drinking and lower your cholesterol.  And there's no sense arguing with them because you already know that doing these things would be good for your heart and overall health.  But chances are you've already tried — and failed — at one, two or all of these things.

So you give up.  Your jogging outfit becomes a pair of pajamas, your nicotine patches get buried at the back of your medicine cabinet, and you start ordering double cheese pepperoni pizzas and six-packs of beer three or four nights a week.

But improving your heart health doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition.  There are modest, doable changes you can make to make 2013 the year of good health.

1.  Lose 5 pounds

Your ideal weight might be 20, 30 or 60 pounds less than your current weight, but losing just a fraction of that amount can improve your heart health.

Losing just 5 to 10 pounds will reduce your cholesterol, an indicator of heart health, says MayoClinic.com.

You can lose 5 pounds in 5 weeks by reducing your calorie intake by just 500 calories a day or 5 pounds in 50 days by trimming 100, based on the basic formula that 3,500 calories equal a pound.

In less than two months, you could improve your cholesterol by giving up just one of these 100-calorie  items from your daily diet:

  • 1 tablespoon of butter, margarine or other oil.
  • 1 slice of bread.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (half packet) of McDonald's creamy ranch sauce.
  • 1 medium banana.

Or find your own 100-calorie-a-day savings from among the more than 8,000 foods listed in the USDA Nutritional Database.

2.  Go for a Walk

A walk around the block is not going to give you six-pack abs, but neither is doing crunches — unless you make them a daily habit.

But “all exercise adds up to a healthier heart,” according to the American Heart Association.

Although 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise is recommended by the AHA, any movement is better than none at all.

So consider an after-dinner walk or bike ride or try walking instead of driving to your favorite eatery during your lunch break.

3.  Cut Back on Alcohol Consumption

Red wine contains heart-healthy antioxidants called resveratrol, reports MayoClinic.com, but drinking too much of any kind of alcohol can raise your triglycerides, which elevate your heart health risk.

If you drink alcohol, one or two drinks a day are recommended.

A drink, as defined by the AHA, is a 12 ounce beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof liquor such as rum, vodka, whiskey and gin.

If you typically drink more than this daily, cut back a drink at a time.

4.  Change Your Smoking Habits

Smoking tobacco cigarettes increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Quitting is the ideal option, but quitting is hard.

“Most of the 19 percent of US residents who smoke want to quit and have tried to do so.  Many individual quit attempts fail,” writes Dr. Nancy Rigotti in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Rigotti says that people who try a single quitting method, including nicotine patches, therapy and antidepressants, have  more trouble quitting than those who try multiple methods and a comprehensive approach.  E cigarettes are an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

If you can't give up entirely, try reducing the number of tobacco cigarettes you smoke or consider smoke-free options.  Nicotine gum and electronic cigarettes do not produce smoke.