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The New Pulse on Heart-Healthy Living

Good health calls for more than good eating, and the American Heart Association (AHA) has recognized this fact in its diet and lifestyle recommendations. Check out these tips to help keep your heart in tip-top shape.

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The AHA's recommendations "emphasize a healthy lifestyle approach—getting people to think about health habits in addition to how many nutrients they're consuming," says Judith Wylie-Rosett, EdD, RD, coauthor of the AHA's 2006 diet and lifestyle recommendations and head of the division of behavioral and nutritional research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in Bronx, New York. Here's what Wylie-Rosett and the AHA suggest for keeping fit.

Step it up.

"Making a commitment to physical activity is an important first step," says Wylie-Rosett. "Anything that you can do beyond what you're currently doing is an improvement." Using a pedometer is a good way to track how much you move in your daily routine. If you're taking 2,000 steps a day, try getting up to 3,000. Your eventual goal is to take 10,000 steps a day. Thirty minutes of moderate activity a day is recommended by the new guidelines, which will get you to that 10,000-step goal.

Count those calories.

The equation hasn't changed: Losing weight means burning more calories than you take in. Start by determining your calorie range according to age, activity level, and weight status. Go to www.americanheart.org for pointers. Remember, as we get older, the number of calories we need decreases. Pay attention to nutrition labels and portion sizes. Chart calories consumed and burned. Fat calories should be no more than 25 to 35% of your daily intake, according to the new guidelines.

Cut back on certain fats even further.

Keep trans fat less than 1% of your daily calories and saturated fat below 7%. Avoid foods high in dietary cholesterol. Opt instead for skinless poultry and lean meats, as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

Enjoy a colorful palette of fruits and vegetables.

The AHA continues to recommend four or five daily servings each of fruits and vegetables, but now emphasizes deeply colored produce (spinach, carrots, peaches, berries), which are generally richer in vitamins and minerals. When fresh produce isn't available, choose fruits and vegetables prepared without added sugar or sodium.

Eat more whole grains and fiber.

Half of your daily servings of grain should now be whole grain. Choose whole grain oats, oatmeal, brown rice, rye, whole wheat, and barley. And eat foods high in soluble fiber, such as whole grain oats and barley, to help lower blood cholesterol, a key toward preventing heart disease and stroke. Shoot for about 25 grams of fiber a day.

Consume more fish.

Studies show a correlation between eating fish and a lowered risk of death from coronary heart disease, according to the AHA, which now recommends a weekly diet including at least two servings of fish. Choose oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, trout, herring) that has been grilled, baked, or poached, rather than fish commercially fried or soaked in fats and cream sauces.

Avoid tobacco smoke.

The AHA reports that cigarette smokers are two to three times more likely to die from coronary disease than nonsmokers. And cigarette smoking is also the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. That's why the new guidelines stress being smoke-free as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Eat healthy when eating out. So many meals are being eaten outside of the home that the new guidelines now underline the importance of healthy fast-food options. "The recommendations are for making more produce available and for more labeling of caloric values of foods in fast-food restaurants and cafeterias. That way, people are aware of their options and the type of choices they're really making," says Wylie-Rosett. For a free brochure about the AHA's new recommendations, visit www.americanheart.org, or call 800-AHA-USA1.
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