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Heart Surgery Patient Guide

How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

To help keep your heart healthy, make some lifestyle changes. Exercise and healthy eating are two ways to help keep your heart and body healthy. Before you start making these changes, talk with your health care provider. He or she can help you plan how to make exercise and healthy eating a safe part of your daily life.

Exercise Regularly

Like any muscle, your heart works best with routine exercise. Being active also reduces stress, lowers your cholesterol, and helps you lose weight. Before you start exercising, talk with your health care provider. He or she may suggest a cardiac rehabilitation program at a local hospital or community center.

Choose an Aerobic Activity

Exercise that works your lungs and heart can improve the way they use oxygen. Choose an activity you enjoy. Make it fun. You may even want to ask a friend to join you. Here are some ideas:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Climbing stairs
  • Bicycling
  • Dancing
  • Jogging

Start Slowly and Keep at It

Plan to start slowly. Here are some tips:

  • Begin exercising daily for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Slowly build up to at least 30 minutes on all or most days of the week. You don't have to do all your exercise in one session. You can reach this goal by being active for 10 minutes 3 times a day.
  • Plan exercise sessions in advance. Write them down on your calendar.
  • If you have chest pain while exercising, stop and call your doctor right away.

Eat Heart-Healthy Food

Changing the way you eat can lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. Food doesn't have to be bland and boring to be healthy. Start by working some healthy changes into your present diet. Try some of the tips below. Also, ask your health care provider for other tips. Better eating habits can help your whole body.

Less Fat

  • Eat fewer fatty cuts of meat and more fish. Use less butter, margarine, and lard.
  • Avoid foods containing palm and coconut oil or hydrogenated (check the label) oils.
  • Eat fewer high-fat dairy products like cheese, ice cream, and whole milk.
  • Get a heart-healthy cookbook and try some new, low-fat dishes.

Less Salt

  • Don't add salt to food when cooking, and keep the salt shaker off the table.
  • Don't use sauces or cooking aids that are high in salt such as soy sauce, MSG, baking soda, and baking powder.
  • Instead of salt, season your food with herbs and flavorings such as lemon, garlic, or onion.

More Fiber

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Add oats, whole-grain rice, and bran to your diet.
  • Eat more beans and potatoes. They are great sources of fiber.
  • When you eat more fiber, be sure to drink more water to prevent constipation.

Stop Smoking

If you smoke, quit. It's one of the best things you can do for your heart. If you smoke, your heart gets less oxygen. Plaque builds up faster in your vessels. And your risk for a heart attack is increased. Quitting reverses these risks. Even if you've tried to quit before and haven't, don't give up. Many smokers try quitting 4 or 5 times before they succeed.

First, Plan to Quit

  • Start by firmly deciding to quit.
  • Ask your doctor about stop-smoking programs, aids such as nicotine patches and gum, or prescription medications that can help you quit.
  • Contact the American Heart or Lung Associations about programs that can help you quit.
  • Pick a quitting program and a quit date that feels right for you. Then quit.

Next, Get Support

  • Find someone to quit with you.
  • Tell your friends and family that you've quit smoking. Let them know how they can help.
  • Visit a stop-smoking clinic or join a support group.
  • Spend more time with friends who don't smoke.
  • Write down all the reasons why you've quit. Read them whenever you feel the urge to smoke.

Don't Give Up

  • Be persistent. Quitting takes time and willpower.
  • Avoid places where people are smoking.
  • Stock up on sugar-free gum, vegetable sticks, or hard candy for when you feel like smoking.
  • Think of daily activities or routines that give you the urge to smoke. Then change those routines, if you can.
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