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Lifestyle Changes That May Help With Coronary Artery Disease

Whether you want to reduce your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD) or take action to control it, adopting a healthier lifestyle can help.

Eating right

Talk to your doctor before you change the way you eat. With his or her approval, you may want to incorporate the following changes into your diet:

  • Aim for a diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat—the kind found in meat, full-fat dairy products, and many packaged foods—and instead use polyunsaturated fats, such as canola oil and corn oil.
  • To reduce high cholesterol, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet may help. This diet can help you reduce your consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • To help control high blood pressure, ask your doctor if the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan is right for you. This diet emphasizes nutritious low-sodium foods and recipes.

You may also want to work with a nutritionist to determine the best eating plan for you. To get more information about eating right, along with heart-healthy recipes, go to Nutrition and Healthy Eating.

Getting regular exercise

Staying physically active can help reduce your risk for conditions that can lead to CAD, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. Be sure to consult with your doctor before you start working out if you haven't exercised in a while. It's important to start slowly and build your endurance over time. Exercise options may include:

  • Walking, running, bicycling, swimming, and dancing
  • Yard work, such as mowing the lawn; housework, including vacuuming and washing windows
  • If you have health conditions that limit your mobility, consider signing up for water aerobics classes at a YMCA or health club, or find out if your local community center offers chair exercise classes

Maintaining a healthy weight

Being overweight can make it more likely that you'll develop CAD. How to tell if you're at a healthy weight? The simplest way is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI measures your weight in relation to your height and gives an estimate of your total body fat. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 and over is considered obese. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered to be a healthy weight. To find out what your BMI is, use the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's BMI calculator.

If you need to lose weight, you may want to start by talking to your doctor. He or she may also recommend that you work with a nutritionist to come up with a healthy eating plan as well as strategies to help you lose weight and keep it off.

Quitting smoking

Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of CAD, and it increases the risk of other conditions that can lead to this condition. Smoking raises blood pressure, decreases HDL ("good") cholesterol, and increases the risk for a stroke.

If you smoke and would like help quitting, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend nicotine replacement aids, such as the nicotine patch or gum, or may suggest programs that can help. The American Cancer Society also offers the Guide to Quitting Smoking, designed to help smokers quit for good.

Reducing stress

Studies suggest a relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and chronic stress. People who have chronic stress in their lives, such as difficult work or home lives or financial pressures, may be at a higher risk for heart disease than someone who has a less stressful life. There are many ways you can help control stress, including:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Meditating or doing yoga or tai chi
  • Learning a relaxation technique, such as guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation
  • Listening to music

Role of low-dose aspirin

Researchers have found that low-dose (81 mg) aspirin can help prevent a first and second heart attack in people who have CAD. It also reduces the risk of having a stroke. But taking a daily low-dose aspirin isn't for everyone. Before you start to take a low-dose aspirin, talk to your doctor.

Learn more about the importance of emotional support if you have CAD.

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You can enjoy your favorite restaurants and still eat a heart-healthy diet. Get tips that can help.