Living a longer, healthier life is something we all hope to accomplish. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, but luckily there are achievable, evidenced-based actions that you can take to reduce your odds of dying from a cardiovascular-related condition.

When I meet with my patients, we often discuss lifestyle modifications anyone can make to improve their cardiovascular health. You may be familiar with some of the suggestions I’ve detailed below, but whether it’s new information or a subtle reminder, the new year is the perfect time to work them into your daily life. You get benefits from each of these things alone, but you get extra health boosts from doing them all! I am doing my best to live by this guidance too.

  1. Exercise for 150 minutes or more each week. That’s only about 20 minutes each day of the week. You get the most benefit from moderate intensity exercise, which means brisk walking or slow jogging. Activities like aerobics, yoga, Pilates, swimming and biking also count. But, you don’t even need to break a sweat to gain benefits from exercise. Walking at a comfortable pace will give your body significant health benefits.
  2. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day—that’s about 4 ½ cups per day. There are many ways to get enough of these foods. This includes not only fresh produce, but also canned, frozen, and dried produce (just be careful about any added salt in packaged produce). Work fruits and vegetables into snacks and try to fill 2/3 of your plate with a plant during meals. Once you work this into your regular meals, it will become routine. The Mediterranean diet is a great way to get these fruit and vegetables in your life.
  3. Maintain a Body Mass Index of 25 or lower. BMI is a measure of your body fat based on height and weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your heart health—the two recommendations I share above will help you maintain a healthy BMI. Keep track of your weight, and notice if you need to change your eating or exercise habits.
  4. Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about options to help you quit.

This health advice has remained true for many years, because when followed, it is effective. It will also probably improve your quality of life. For example, I had a patient who started with just increasing fruits and vegetables in his diet. He and his wife liked these changes so much they started following the Mediterranean diet for all of their meals. They started losing weight and having more energy, so they added a daily walk to their routine, first for 10 minutes a day, but now they are doing about 40 minutes a day. He has lost 20 pounds since I started seeing him five months ago, and we’ve been able to reduce his blood pressure medications. He says he hasn’t felt this good in 20 years.

I have another patient who had a heart attack at a young age. She recognized her chest pain and nausea could be a sign of a heart attack so came to the emergency room immediately and was able to get a catheterization quickly once she got here. She saw her heart attack as a wakeup call, and she made some big changes to her life. She quit smoking, follows the Mediterranean diet, and exercises daily. Her lifestyle changes made her feel better than she has in a long time. These changes can help people not only live longer, but more importantly, live better. Little changes can make a big difference. Maybe pick one of these suggestions and see if you can build on it, too?

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By Dr. Carolyn Davidson, Elliot Cardiovascular Consultants