AHA: Healthier Diet and Exercise for a Stronger Heart

American Heart Association releases guidelines on reducing heart disease risk through healthy diet and exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Making healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease. New guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) show specific ways to eat and exercise for a healthier heart.

An AHA committee made up of doctors and medical experts looked at more than 10 years of research on healthy lifestyles and heart health to decide on the recommendations.

The guidelines emphasize a plant- and grain-based diet and aerobic exercise three to four times each week.

The committee also suggested cutting down on extra sodium, red meat and sweets.

"Talk to your cardiologist about diet and exercise plans."

Robert Eckel, MD, and John Jakicic, PhD, were co-chairs of the American Heart Association guideline writing committee, which examined previous studies to determine what lifestyle practices reduced heart disease risk.

According to the committee, healthy behaviors are very important for preventing heart disease. The committee hoped to establish the ideal diet, nutrient intake and levels and types of physical activity for reducing heart disease risk.

Before making recommendations, the group looked at previous clinical trials, studies and reviews on heart disease from 1998 to 2009.

The lifestyle management recommendations included guidelines for diet and physical activity.

The committee recommended that patients who seek to lower their cholesterol should consume a diet that consists largely of vegetables, fruits and whole grains with low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and legumes.

They also recommended limiting sweets and red meats, determining an appropriate daily calorie intake and reducing the number of calories consumed from saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fat is commonly found in fatty cuts of meat or poultry with skin. Trans fats are found in foods with partially hydrogenated oils, most commonly packaged convenience foods.

According to the report, adults with high blood pressure should eat a similar diet while lowering the amount of sodium they consume, ideally to 1,500 mg per day or less.

In terms of physical activity, people with high cholesterol or high blood pressure should exercise moderately to vigorously, three to four times per week for 40 minutes each session, the committee recommended.

The committee wrote that patients should talk to their doctor about an appropriate diet plan for maintaining heart health, especially if they have been diagnosed with other conditions like diabetes.

The authors of the guidelines noted that there are gaps in evidence that require more research on topics like diet and statin treatment, naturally occurring fiber versus fiber supplements and ethnic minorities and exercise.

These guidelines were published on November 12 in Circulation and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The research was funded by the American Heart Association. Several of the authors have worked as consultants or partners for health and medical groups.

Review Date: 
November 12, 2013
Last Updated:
November 12, 2013