I'd like to improve my heart health, but am worried I don't have the motivation to join a gym or make big diet changes. Any advice?
Answers from Rekha Mankad, M.D.
It's great that you want to improve your heart health. Don't think that you have to make big changes to have an effect on your heart health, though. Even small, basic steps can have dramatic effects.
One of the biggest drops in heart disease risk occurs when you go from living a sedentary lifestyle to being active for as little as one hour a week. Obviously, the more active you are, the better. But just one solid hour of activity over the course of a week makes a difference.
Health professionals at Mayo Clinic have developed the Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart Plan. The entire plan is contained in the book "Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life!" But one of the key messages is that even little steps may make a big difference.
Some of these steps for getting started are in a two-week "Quick Start" section of the book termed "Eat 5, Move 10, Sleep 8." Here's a summary of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart Plan's quick start:
- Eat 5. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to boost your heart health. Start by eating breakfast and including at least one serving of fruit or vegetable. Snack on vegetables or fruits in between meals. Make a conscious effort to include fruits and vegetables in your daily meals. Don't worry so much about foods you shouldn't eat, just work on getting five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Move 10. Add at least 10 minutes of moderately intense physical activity to what you do every day. Sure government recommendations say 30 minutes or more, but the bottom line is even 10 minutes makes a difference. For example, just 60 to 90 minutes a week of physical activity can reduce your heart disease risk by up to half. That's a big benefit from a pretty small commitment on your part. It doesn't have to be elaborate — take the stairs, take a walk, just get moving. As you become more active, you can try to increase your total amount of activity each day.
- Sleep 8. Quality sleep is good for your heart. It can be a challenge to make time for good sleep, but it's important. For two weeks try to get eight hours of good, quality sleep each night. Yes, each person's sleep needs vary slightly, but eight is a good number to shoot for.
All of these tips — Eat 5, Move 10, Sleep 8 — are meant to be tried for two weeks before you move on to a more established healthy heart plan. But there's nothing wrong with continuing this quick start for longer periods. Consider trying other reputable diet and exercise plans offered by the American Heart Association and government agencies. The point is to get started with something and keep at it.
Dec. 24, 2014
- Grogan M, et al. Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life! New York, N.Y.: Time Home Entertainment Inc.; 2012.
- Physical activity guidelines advisory committee report. Part G. Section 2: Cardiorespiratory. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/report/G2_cardio.aspx. Accessed Dec. 8, 2014.
- Douglas PS. Exercise and fitness in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 9, 2014.
- Williams PT, et al. The relationship of walking intensity to total and cause-specific mortality. Results from the National Walkers' Health Study. PLOS One. 2013;8:e81098. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0081098. Accessed Dec. 9, 2014.
- 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2014;63:2960.
- How much sleep is enough? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/howmuch#. Accessed Dec. 13, 2014.