If you've been diagnosed with heart disease, a common comorbidity of diabetes, making a laundry list of changes to your lifestyle may seem overwhelming. But remember: while there are some very important changes that should be made right away, such as quitting smoking and cutting back on excessive drinking, other dietary changes and fitness goals can be reached with gradual small changes.
Here is a list of 10 changes you can—and should—make to keep your heart disease in check. And none of them are popping a pill.
1. Quit smoking
If you've been diagnosed with heart disease and you're still smoking, you should make it your number one goal to quit. It's obviously not news that smoking does nasty things to your heart and whole body, but with heart disease, smoking complicates all of the other lifestyle changes you'll want to make. Your lungs will thank you, too.
2. Eat good fats
This includes limiting the saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol and instead opting for healthier fats. The American Heart Association launched a Face the Fats campaign to help educate Americans on the benefits of eating heart healthy fats. Choose olive oil, fish, avocados, and nuts.
3. Eat fish
A Northwestern University study suggests that baked or broiled fish may lower heart failure risk for women. Fried fish, on the other hand, can hurt your heart. This adds more evidence to the growing body of research that suggests the omega-3s in fish are fantastic for your heart. If you don't eat fish regularly, consider adding a fish oil or krill oil supplement to your diet. The American Heart Association recommends consuming two servings of fish per week.
4. Eat those fruits and veggies
Fruits and vegetables are considered "functional foods" because they have a lot of chronic-disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Add whole fruits and vegetables to every meal. You don't have to wake up and be a vegan tomorrow, just make little dietary changes every day. Add a sliced apple, banana, or some baby carrots to lunch. One trick to eating your veggies is to eat them before you eat the rest of your meal. Also keep in mind, if you drench your vegetables in butter or salt, you are taking away their nutritional value. For fruit, blueberries in particular have recently been found to have extra heart-protecting powers.
5. Exercise more than 30 minutes daily
More and more research is showing that it's not about what you weigh, but really how much you exercise that counts. Research published in the American Heart Journal shows that a key consideration when examining mortality is your fitness level. The study examined coronary artery disease patients and found the fittest had the healthiest hearts. Fitness was measured by testing oxygen levels, not body fat.
6. Get a social network
The last thing you may feel like doing after going through a major illness is reaching out and talking to people, however, social ties help keep your ticker ticking. After studying the effect of social isolation on mice that survived a heart attack, it seems lonely mice had a harder time recovering post-heart attack. The Ohio State University researchers found the socially isolated mice suffered higher degrees of emotional, neurological, and cardiac dysfunction when compared to the social mice.
7. Eat lean white meats
Ditch the red and processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. A study in the journal Circulation reviewed 20 studies involving meat consumption in healthy adults. Combined, the studies involved more than one million adults. The conclusion was that just a small daily serving of processed meats like bacon was associated with a 42 percent greater risk of developing heart disease.
8. Reduce your stress
Consider taking up tai chi, yoga, or a regular meditation practice. Many people develop insomnia and depression after a heart attack. Relaxation exercises have been proven to help reduce stress levels. Consider taking an eight-week class to help teach you how to introduce relaxation and meditation into your life.
9. Drink less booze
While a glass (or two for men) of red wine has shown great promise as being heart healthy, if you cross the line into higher consumption, you're doing your heart damage. Moderation is the key.
10. Find love
We don't just mean romantic love; find a hobby that makes you feel satisfied. Or spend more time playing with your children or grandchildren. Staying busy and doing something you love will help your heart heal. Of course, solid loving relationships help, too. Studies have proven that being married helps the heart. A study at University of Rochester reports those happily married had the best chance of long-term survival after heart issues.
So, which of these 10 pointers can you get started on today?