How To Keep Your Heart Healthy
Better Nutrition|February 2019

The latest evidence on the best diet, exercise, and heart supplements—even if you take prescription drugs to reduce harmful blood clots, cholesterol, or blood pressure

Vera Tweed

Being physically fit and eating a heart-healthy diet can each cut risk for heart disease in half. Does that mean you’ll be free of heart problems forever if you do both? No one has tested the premise, but you’d certainly be in better health.

BEST FOODS FOR A HEALTHY HEART

Despite decades of a low-fat diet being promoted as the answer, recent evidence paints a different picture. In fact, the key drivers of heart disease are sugary and starchy foods, rather than fat. A major U.S. study found that people who get 25 percent of their calories from added sugar (sodas and other sweetened drinks are major sources) are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those consuming less than 10 percent of calories from added sugar. Another study found that eating foods that trigger high blood sugar—including sweetened drinks and starchy foods—contributes to atherosclerosis and doubles risk of heart-related death.

In contrast, eating more seafood rich in omega-3 fats, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds has a protective effect on the heart. A moderate amount of full-fat dairy foods and unprocessed red meat are also good. In other words, aim to eat more vegetables (other than potatoes), more fish and seafood, more fresh fruit, and some nuts and seeds. Some dairy and meat are fine as well. Go easy on grains, because many of today’s dishes are overloaded with them—big bowls of pasta, large buns for burger sand sandwiches, and pizza with thick crusts are common examples.

HEART-HEALTHY EXERCISE

When it comes to exercise, spending endless hours on a treadmill is not the most effective regimen for heart health. Activities such as brisk walking or running at a moderate, steady pace have been the standard for improving fitness, but they aren’t the best. An analysis of studies following nearly 1,000 people with heart disease found that interval training—short spurts of intense activity alternated with movement at a relaxed pace—is more effective.

Here’s an example: Instead of walking at the same pace for 20–30 minutes, walk as fast as you can for a block and then walk at a slower, more comfortable pace for one or two blocks, and repeat the cycle multiple times.

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