What's the first step toward a healthy lifestyle?

What are the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle? A healthy lifestyle includes:

  • getting to, or staying at, a healthy weight
  • exercising regularly
  • following a healthy eating plan
  • avoiding smoking
  • drinking very little or no alcohol
  • getting enough rest
  • managing stress
  • taking medicine exactly as prescribed

According to the National Institutes of Health, making heart-healthy lifestyle changes may help you do the following:


  • improve your cholesterol levels
  • possibly prevent high blood pressure
  • lower your blood pressure if it's too high
  • reduce other risk factors you may have for heart disease

Even if you already have heart disease or if you've already had a heart attack, taking charge of your life by eating healthfully and exercising may help you:

  • enjoy life more
  • reduce your risk of future heart attack
  • decrease your need for procedures such as angioplasty and bypass surgery
  • extend your life

A healthy lifestyle may help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for heart disease. This includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking. According to the World Health Organization, diseases of the heart and circulation are largely lifestyle diseases. They have that name because they're often caused by unhealthy habits, such as these:

  • eating a diet high in saturated fat or cholesterol
  • getting too little exercise
  • smoking
  • gaining too much weight

If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease, changes in diet and exercise are always part of your doctor's treatment plan. Some people can lower their blood pressure through diet and exercise alone, without taking medicine. Even if you need medicine, you can stay as healthy as possible by eating well and being active. This goes a long way toward getting your blood pressure to a healthier level. To get the benefits of healthier habits, you need to make them a permanent part of each day.

Are intensive lifestyle changes for me?

Sometimes to get the most improvement that you can from lifestyle changes, it takes a more intensive approach, such as a program like that of Dean Ornish, M.D.

People who followed Dr. Ornish's program were able to reverse heart disease without taking medicine to lower cholesterol and without surgery. However, the program is intensive and has four key parts that must be done together. To learn more about programs like these, follow the links below.

  • What are the benefits of making intensive lifestyle changes?
  • How do I follow a very-low-fat vegetarian diet?
  • How do I make intensive changes to my exercise program?
  • How can emotional connections help my heart?
  • How do I make intensive changes to manage stress?

Taking charge of your health is an important job. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Your healthcare team can help. Even if you already have heart disease, making healthy lifestyle changes can help your heart function better. For the rest of your life, the rewards of a healthy heart will be well worth your efforts.


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