Heart Health Recommendations

The term "heart healthy" gets tossed around a lot, but what are heart health recommendations, really? Here's what you can do.

Helpful Highlights

  • Hints to help your loved one stop smoking

  • Hints to help your loved one eat healthy

  • Hints to help your loved one manage weight and work in activity and exercise

  • Hints to help your loved one reduce stress and get adequate sleep

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You can help your loved one manage and even improve their heart health by making practical and sustainable lifestyle changes.

Smoking cessation (stopping) 

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially atherosclerosis. Quitting is the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease and its complications. If you need help quitting, talk to your provider.

Helpful hints:

  • Educate yourself and your loved one about the risk factors of smoking.

  • Listen to your loved one’s concerns regarding smoking cessation.

  • Reframe the way you may think about smoking by understanding that it is an addiction, not just a habit, and that it provides a sense of security.

  • Create a detailed stop-smoking plan with your loved one (smoking cessation programs have great tools for this).

Eat healthy by eating intentionally

Control portion size and don't eat until "stuffed" (uncomfortable).

Eat more whole, fresh vegetables and fruits.

  • The easiest way to do this is to exchange a protein (meat, egg, cheese) or high fat/high sugar/high sodium item for another vegetable or fruit at meals.

Select whole grains (look for whole grain/heart healthy labels).

Limit unhealthy fats (saturated, trans) and increase healthy ones (fish, olive oil, avocado).

Choose low-fat protein sources (skinless chicken, fish, wild game).

Limit salt (sodium) intake to under 2,000 mg per day (look at labels).

Plan ahead by creating daily menus and don't deviate from them.

Allow for the occasional treat.

  • Always denying ourselves the things we enjoy is the fastest way to wreck a healthy diet, in addition to making us irritable and even resentful.

  • Think of "occasional" as one small treat a few times throughout the week (a handful of gummy bears, a couple of small cookies, a single scoop of ice cream without toppings, a snack-size bag of chips), or one large treat once a week (a slice of pie or cake, an ice cream sundae or milkshake, a serving of french fries or slice of pizza).

Helpful hints:

  • Buy smaller plates or plates that are divided for portion sizes.

  • Assist your loved one with grocery lists and shopping.

  • Help your loved one to read and understand prepared food labels, including fat types and amounts, sodium content, and sugar content.

  • Utilize portion-controlled treats such as single-serve desserts, chips, or cookies rather than large bags, containers, or packages.

Manage weight

Being overweight increases the risk of heart disease. Ask the provider what is considered a healthy weight based on height and age.

Helpful hints:

  • Create a weight chart and put it in an easily accessible and visible place, preferably next to the scale - although the refrigerator is also popular.

  • If weight loss is a goal, put that goal at the top.

  • Understand that skipping meals is not a sound approach to weight loss and cannot only cause other health problems but also lead to weight gain.

Activity and exercise

Regular exercise helps control diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, and promotes better sleep — all risk factors for heart disease. 

With provider permission, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. 

ALL physical activity that raises the heart rate to parameters set by the provider counts toward the 30-60 minutes. It does not have to be specific types of activity or exercise, it can be whatever raises heart rate.

In the event of coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), your provider will tell you when it's safe to begin exercising again, and at what intensity and duration.

Helpful hints:

  • Offer to take walks with your loved one and allow them to take their time.

    • A grocery store or other retailer walks

    • Paved park and nature hike pathway

    • Around the neighborhood.

  • Offer to engage in other types of physical activity with them or encourage them to find senior groups or other organized classes/outings.

    • Swimming

    • Yoga, seated yoga

    • Resistance training (bands, weights, isotonic exercises)

    • Recumbent bikes or pedal exercisers (that can be used on the floor and tabletop)

Recumbent Bike

Pedal Exerciser for Floor & Tabletop

Manage stress 

Find ways to help reduce emotional stress. Try avoiding negative people, planning events that are demanding (like hosting large gatherings), offering too many favors, or generally agreeing to take on too much. Make time for peace and fulfillment through hobbies, meditation, lunch with a friend, or a book club.

Practice mindfulness (be present in the moment and in tune with feelings).

Connect with others in social situations and/or support groups. Sometimes church attendance serves as both.

Talk to the provider about strategies to manage anxiety and depression.

Helpful hints:

  • Offer undivided attention to your loved one's concerns, listening for what they need.

  • Plan resolutions with your loved one and ask others to participate (you don't have to do it all yourself).

  • Find ways to incorporate the things they enjoy but can no longer manage like they used to (for example, sitting on the end of a pier or dock and fishing rather than being in a boat or wading in the river).

Get good sleep

Poor sleep may increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions, as well as exacerbate (worsen) existing ones.

Adults should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily.

The room should be dark, quiet, and cool for sleeping.

Helpful hints:

  • Make sure the bed is comfortable. Change the mattress, if necessary, and consider the number and texture of pillows and bedding.

  • Provide a way to raise the head of the bed if shortness of breath is a problem.

    • Raise the head of the bed on blocks designed for safety

    • Place a wedge under the head of the mattress

    • Place a pillow wedge under their upper body while they sleep

    • Consider an electric adjustable bed

  • Encourage your loved one to get 30-60 minutes of activity and exercise during the day.

  • Encourage your loved one to avoid caffeine and sugar after dinner (use decaf coffee or tea in the evening, and if a snack is needed, ensure it's low in sugar).


American Heart Association

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Mayo Clinic

Cleveland Clinic

American College of Cardiology

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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