How to Eat Right and Exercise with Heart Disease


In this Article

  • Worried About Taste? Relax!
  • Best Diets for Heart Disease
  • Exercise for Your Heart
  • Fitness Heart Smarts

When you find out you have heart disease, it often puts diet and exercise in a whole new light. They become top priorities along with taking your medicine and keeping up with your doctor appointments.

Use these tips to get started today.

Worried About Taste? Relax!

The right mix of foods can yield big health rewards including weight loss, lower cholesterol, and better blood pressure levels. For many people, it’s a big change. But surprise! It can be delicious. 

Chart a new path at the grocery store. Stop by the produce aisle. Fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients and low in fat and calories. Aim for at least 4 servings a day. To boost nutrition, mix colors — such as green from broccoli and Brussels sprouts, yellow from squash and bananas, and red from peppers and tomatoes.

Get grainy. You can eat whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, or barley. Or look for products that are made with them. You’ll get great taste and fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.

Feast on fish. Fatty fish like salmon and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats help prevent an irregular heart rhythm, lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides, and slow the plaque buildup that clogs arteries and can cause a heart attack. Reel them in from the seafood counter (or from a can) at least twice a week.

Swap your seasonings. Too much salt may raise blood pressure, which forces your heart to work harder. The American Heart Association suggests you cut back to no more than 1,500 mg daily — about a half-teaspoon. Use basil, lemon, or garlic to flavor foods instead.

Use plant power. Go for canola, flaxseed, or olive oils. Been there, done that? Try walnut or grapeseed oils. They’re high in unsaturated fatty acids, which help lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels.

Best Diets for Heart Disease

Create your own food plan using the advice above. Or follow one of these diets, which are good fits for people with heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet is a great way to go. It’s high in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish and low in red meat and sugar. You can even have small amounts of red wine if your doctor says it’s OK for you. 

This diet gets high marks for heart disease because studies show it improves heart risks like high triglycerides and inflammation. People who stick with this type of plan are less likely to have a heart attack or stroke or die from heart disease.

The DASH diet, like the Mediterranean plan, is big on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and nuts. It’s also low in red meat and refined sugar, though it does allow for more of these than a Mediterranean diet. Studies show it can bring down high blood pressure, which could lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

Exercise for Your Heart

Heart disease doesn’t mean you’re out of the game. It’s actually a cue to move more.

When you make it a habit, it pays off in your blood pressure and cholesterol and keeps your heart pumping strong. It’s also great for your mood and stress level.  

First, ask your doctor if there are any limits on what you can do.

Then aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. There are so many options. You can ride a bike, take a brisk walk, or go swimming.

Add in two days of strength training weekly. Lift light weights or work out with resistance bands.

If you are short on time, break up exercise into 15-minute mini-workouts. You’ll get the same benefits. Do something you love so you’ll stick with it. Walk the dog. Take a dance class. Or play tennis with a friend.

Fitness Heart Smarts

A physical therapist or trainer can help you custom-design an exercise program. Or your doctor might recommend a cardiac rehab program to teach you how to exercise safely.

Start slowly. A gentle 10-minute walk may be all you can do at first. Slowly work up to longer and more intense workouts when you feel ready.

When the temperature soars or plunges, take your routine indoors. Heart disease can affect your body’s ability to control cold and heat.

Don’t lift heavy weights or do exercises that make you hold your breath. Breath holding makes your heart work harder.

Take your pulse often while you work out. Ask your doctor for your target pulse rate. If it jumps too high, stop exercising or slow down.

If you get dizzy or short of breath, stop exercising. But chances are, as you get healthier, you will be able to do more than you expect.

Show Sources


American College of Cardiology: “Heart Disease: Being Active.”

American Heart Association: “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults,” “Can antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect you and your heart?” “Cold Weather and Cardiovascular Disease,” “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” “Managing Blood Pressure with a Heart-Healthy Diet,” “Whole Grains and Fiber.”

de Lorgeril, M. Public Health Nutrition, December 2011.

Lin, L. Nutrition Reviews, June 2013.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “How to Prevent and Control Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors,” “Your Guide to Living Well with Heart Disease.”

National Jewish Health: “Cardiac Conditions: Safe Exercise for Patients with Heart Disease.”

News release, American College of Cardiology, October 18, 2013.

Parikh, P. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, May 2005.

Whelton, P. Circulation, November 2012.

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