You Can Control Many Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Dieting & Staying Active

Eating healthfully can help you avoid high blood cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease. Below are the AHA's dietary recommendations for a healthy person:

  • Limit fat intake to no more than 30 percent of your total calories; it should break down as follows:
    • monounsaturated fatty acids — 10 to 15 percent of calories
    • polyunsaturated fatty acids — 8 to 10 percent of calories
    • saturated fatty acids and trans fats — less than 10 percent of calories (less than 7 percent if you've had a heart attack, have heart disease or have high cholesterol).
  • Consume less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.
  • Consume less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium each day.
  • Eat no more than three to four egg yolks per week.
  • Eat six or more servings of breads, cereals, pasta and starchy vegetables each day.
  • Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Eat no more than six ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry and fish per day.

Consume two to four servings of fat-free or nonfat milk and low-fat dairy products per day. Consume fats, oils, nuts, seeds and sweets sparingly.

Dr. Dean Ornish, founder, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and a founder of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine there, has pioneered a program in cardiovascular care based on a combination of low-fat diet, exercise, and stress reduction. His program has significantly reduced cardiovascular symptoms in his patients and is now recognized by major insurance providers around the country.

Physical Activity

A lack of physical activity can more than double your chances of getting heart disease, making a lack of exercise comparable in significance as a risk factor to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. To benefit your heart, lungs and circulation, the American Heart Association recommends vigorous exercise three to four times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. One study found that walking on a treadmill at least three hours a week at a brisk pace (three to four miles an hour) cut heart attack and stroke risk by more than half.