Now is the perfect time to start making heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Find out how American Heart Association addresses heart health with the Simple 7™.

1. Eat well

Eating foods low in fat, cholesterol, and salt – and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, can help protect your heart.

2. Watch your weight

Excess weight can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes that increase your chances of heart disease.

For most of us, a 10 percent reduction in weight can do the trick. But the scale alone won’t tell you if you’re in trouble. The best measure is your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat. So, if you are very active and have a high BMI, another useful method is to measure your waist circumference to determine how much abdominal fat you have.

Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches; while women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches.

3. Control your cholesterol

Cholesterol, a waxy substance in the bloodstream and in the cells of our body, isn’t all bad. In fact, “good” cholesterol (HDL) plays an important role in keeping you healthy by clearing “bad” cholesterol (LDL) from your arteries, thereby decreasing your risk of heart disease. How can you increase the good and decrease the bad? Exercise regularly and limit saturated fat and cholesterol is a good start.

Avoid too many animal products such as red meats and full-fat dairy. Limiting trans fats and substituting them with healthier fats such as certain vegetable oils can also help.

While simple diet and exercise changes are enough for many people, others may find benefit from a prescription for cholesterol-lowering medications.

4. Manage your blood pressure

One in three Americans has high blood pressure, but one out of every five doesn’t know they have it.

Known ominously as “the silent killer,” high blood pressure has no symptoms. Diet and exercise are essential to keeping your blood pressure low. Other important factors include staying away from cigarettes, limiting salt and alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight.

5. Reduce your blood sugar

Diabetes can quadruple your risk of heart disease and stroke, so keeping blood sugar levels under control is vital.

A healthy diet and active lifestyle are important components of diabetes management. Regardless of diabetes type, maintaining a balanced way of eating and staying active can help blood glucose to stay in the recommended range and minimize risk of complications like heart disease.

6. Exercise

Just 2 ½ hours of mild to moderate exercise each week can reduce your risk of fatal disease by helping you to control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, and mitigating the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Exercise also helps you look and feel great – not a bad side effect.

This doesn’t mean you have to become a marathon runner overnight. Physical activities such as gardening, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking the dog all count toward heart-healthy living.

7. Quit smoking

Tobacco use is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to a narrowing of the arteries that can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

Nicotine narrows your blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder. Meanwhile, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, also forcing your heart to work overtime and increasing your blood pressure.

Even the occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke increases your risk.

But don’t think it’s too late to undo years of damage. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops significantly within just one year.

Hoag offers a smoking cessation program to the community, to partner with individuals when taking this important step. To learn more, please call 949-764-5511.

​8. Speak with your physician

If you are concerned about heart disease, speak with your physician about developing a tailored plan for a healthier heart. If you need a physician referral, call 949-764-3627.​