Five Heart-Healthy Habits for the Whole Family

Perhaps you are working on taking off some extra pounds and cutting down on that daily glass of wine (or two). You may be logging more time off the couch, thanks to that walking group you joined. Maybe you quit smoking or you are working on it. You might even be getting used to low-fat yogurt and embracing Meatless Mondays.

Congratulations! If you recognize yourself in one or more of these healthy changes, you are already on the road to better living.

Shedding unhelpful habits is great for your overall health. If you’re looking for ways to improve your heart health, check out these five heart-healthy habits to adopt!

Don’t eliminate fat; replace the bad kind with the good

The low-fat diet concept was popular in the 90’s but scientific research has since shown this is a less healthy way to eat. The result of low-fat diets is consumers started eating more processed foods (in fact up to 600,000 new kinds of processed foods were introduced in the 80's and 90’s). According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of “Eat Fat, Get Thin”, processed foods ushered in a harmful type of fat called trans fat. Hyman says if a product contains trans fats, “put it back on the shelf.” Like trans fat, saturated fat has also been associated with heart disease and both are considered “bad fats”. Examples are red meat, full-fat dairy products, and processed foods using hydrogenation.

What is the easiest way to replace bad fats, processed foods, and sugar with better ingredients?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the answer is following the Mediterranean Diet. Mediterranean-style eaters have a lower rate of heart disease than any other area of the world. Fat takes a front row seat in this diet. However, most of it is the unsaturated kind. Butter is replaced with olive oil.  Fish, another source of good fat, dominates the menu. Fat, fish, and vegetables are the heavy hitters in the Mediterranean Diet.

So use olive oil for sautéing those veggies and fish, and leave the butter in the fridge. Your heart will thank you.

Minimum recommended exercise is good. Double or quadruple is better for your heart

Heart health guidelines are clear. Two and a half hours of moderately intense exercise per week is the minimum. What does that mean? For a top-notch ticker, you can walk briskly, garden, dance, tackle domestic chores, play with the grandkids, or walk the dog for 30 minutes a day. You can even be a slouch on two of the days. Thirty minutes per day, five days per week is the minimum amount of activity that will decrease your chances of a heart attack by 10%.

Do any of those activities an hour each day, and you are lowering your risk of heart failure by 19%. Do them for 2 hours a day, you just bought yourself to 35% lowered risk.

No need to run marathons, cycle up mountains with weights in your backpack, or sign up for the high-intensity aerobic all-day charity challenge to lower your risk by 35%. Just garden longer. Walk another loop around the block, or two. Take the dog on a walking adventure around town. These are all fun things you can do with the family. Extreme sporting license not required!

Surround yourself with encouragement and support for your heart healthy lifestyle

Heart-healthy living is a team sport. Going it alone is great, but your heart will thrive more on encouragement.

Scientists put this concept on trial by sending supportive text messages four times a week to a group of recipients. The texts contained tips on lifestyle change. After 6 months, the recipients saw their LDL (bad cholesterol) levels improve, their blood pressure go down, and their body mass indexes shrink. They also exercised more.

If supportive texts can make such a dramatic difference in your heart health, imagine the improvements from getting the whole family involved. Gather the family together for a walk in the park. Casually mention over a dinner of grilled salmon and vegetables the great recipes you found using olive oil instead of butter. You might find some recruits. The more you recruit to your heart healthy lifestyle, the more success you will have.

Trim your TV time

Parents lament their screen time challenges. Getting kids off screens and into parks is the dream. Television was identified as an obesity risk factor in one study.

In the largest study of its kind, the lifestyles of 6,000 children across 12 countries with diverse economic backgrounds were considered. The astonishing conclusions pointed to TV time as a common factor in obese children. Since carrying too much weight is hard on the heart, cardiologists took note.

One hour or less of TV each day is one way to address this concern. Other strategies include not making the TV a focal point in the room when positioning furniture and keeping the TV out of the bedrooms. When adults limit their own TV time, children and teens benefit.

Get to sleep and stay asleep the right amount of time

Another important result of the twelve nations children study linked sleep to obesity. Getting too little sleep can make you fat, and by extension, prone to heart disease. Too much sleep is hard on your heart as well. Sleeping more than 9 hours and less than 6 is considered poor sleep. Aim for 7 hours of sleep on average to avoid this deadly lifestyle habit.

How do you make positive lifestyle changes happen?

Set goals that are specific and achievable. “I will eat fish two days a week” tends to work better than “I will lower my blood pressure.”

Track your progress. Any means will do as long as you jot down your amount of exercise or pounds lost.

Identify your motivation. Behavior change comes more easily if you have a reason to change. It might be getting into shape for a hiking trip with the grandkids. Or getting up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. Make it personal.

Get support. Whether it comes from family, a doctor, or online community, you will need help sticking to your goals when times are tough.

Small steps lead to big health results. Choose small goals and watch them transform over time into bigger changes. Your modest goal of teaching your grandson how to plant carrots one afternoon can transform you into the TV moderating, sleep loving, support seeking, olive oiled person you are meant to be before you know it.


Chomistek, A.K., ScD, Chiuve, S.E., ScD, et. al., (January 2015) Healthy Lifestyle in the Primordial Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Among Young Women, JACC Journals, Volume 65, Issue 1.

Jacob, S., (February 2015) Lower Heart Attack Risk With These Healthy Habits, Studies Say, Scrubbing In

Hyman, M., M.D., Blog.

Kim, C-W, Chang, Y., et. al. (October, 2015) Sleep Duration, Sleep Quality, and Markers of Subclinical Arterial Disease in Healthy Men and Women, Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol.

Li, Y., PhD, Hruby, A. PhD., et. al. (October, 2015) Saturated Fats Compared With Unsaturated Fats and Sources of Carbohydrates in Relation to Risk of Coronary Heart Disease, JACC Journals, Volume 66, Issue 14.

Lifestyle Studies Underscore Power of Healthy Habits, American Heart Association.

Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health, Mayo Clinic.

These Five Habits Can Save Your Heart — Here’s How, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.

What is Moderate-Intensity and Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity?, Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, World Health Organization.

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  • Blog Contributor
Comments 1
  • Roy David Barnett
    Roy David Barnett

    I like postings like these. They help keep me motivated and inspired.

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