Can you take a hint? It’s Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, so if you’ve been putting off adopting a heart healthy lifestyle until now, maybe this double nudge will get you started. It can be as easy as committing to a few new habits, and implementing them every day.

Heart healthy living involves making some key changes in your eating habits and your exercise habits, along with not smoking. Consider which of the following lifestyle changes seem easiest for you to adopt, and start there.

Eating well for your heart

Dr. Gerald Myers, MRH cardiologist, helps patients care for their hearts.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the keys to a heart healthy diet include lowering your salt intake, eating plenty of vegetables, choosing fish and lean poultry over fatty or fried meats, avoiding foods with partially-hydrogenated oils called trans fats (think sugary baked goods and processed foods), drinking less sugary drinks and alcohol, and eating smaller portions.

That list might feel daunting, so let’s break it down into some easier goals. Try one of these: Give up your favorite, greasy, fast food restaurant and find a new place that offers low-fat salads or sandwiches instead of burgers and fries. Trade soda for water. Eat fish twice a week. Take a smaller portion and eat slowly at each meal. Let whole grains and vegetables be the main course at dinner. Trade whole milk for skim milk or a milk alternative, and fatty cheeses like Havarti or cheddar with low-fat cheeses like part-skim mozzarella.

“I like the motto ‘everything in moderation’ when it comes to eating. For example, eggs used to be taboo and now they are fine to have in moderation, as in two to four eggs a week. We have a carnivorous population here that likes beef, so I ask my patients to eat only lean cuts of beef and trim off the fat,” said Dr. Gerald Myers, cardiologist with Memorial Regional Health. “Fish is a good alternative because it’s low in fat and high in protein, plus some fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your heart—like salmon.”

For patients with diabetes or hypertension, Myers recommends they see a dietician to help map out an eating plan.

Get your heart beating with high intensity exercise

Exercise raises your good cholesterol (HDL), which helps prevent heart disease. The AHA recommends you get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

“Intensity of exercise matters for heart health.  You want to achieve at least moderate intensity and work toward achieving vigorous intensity in your workouts. To find your target heart rate for vigorous exercising, take the number 220, subtract your age, then multiply that number by 85%,” Myers suggested.

With this method, the target heart rate for vigorous exercise for a 40-year old would be about 153 and for a 60-year old, about 136.

While you may have to work up to it, a good goal would be to complete a vigorous, 25-minute workout 3 times a week, and get moderate exercise (walking, weight training) two other times a week. Yet, start where it makes sense to you. If you haven’t exercised regularly in a while, check with your medical provider first.

Determine your risk for a heart attack

If your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, it’s time to take your heart health seriously. Take a moment, right now, to complete the simple ACC/AHA risk calculator at If your score comes out high, plan to take a more detailed test, like the Reynold’s Risk Score (, after completing the necessary lab tests.

“The Reynolds Risk Score, which incorporates the role of inflammation in the atherosclerotic process also predicts your 10-year heart attack and/or stroke risk. If that risk is 8% or greater, it’s time to see your doctor and consider appropriate medications,” Myers indicated.