If you've read other sections of our Heart Health Guide, you know that there are important lifestyle changes you and your family can make to promote heart health and help prevent heart disease. You and your family should:
- Incorporate physical activity into daily routines.
- Quit smoking or not start.
- Eat heart-healthy diets.
- Manage your weight through regular exercise and preparing nutritious, low-fat meals.
- Stay up-to-date with routine health exams and screenings to keep tabs on your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
- Take the time to talk with your primary care provider about your individual heart disease risk and steps you can take to lower your risk and your family's risk.
- Find out or learn more about any family history of heart disease.
- Reduce your stress level.
There are a number of health care professionals and related experts who can help you focus on your goals and adopt a more heart-friendly lifestyle. These include:
- Family practitioners: doctors and other health professionals who offer complete, general medical care for all family members.
- Diabetes specialists and/or endocrinologists: doctors who care for patients with complex hormonal disorders and metabolic conditions, including obesity, diabetes, thyroid disorders, metabolic bone disease, pituitary and adrenal conditions and growth disorders.
- Cardiologists: doctors who are highly trained in diseases of the heart.
- Pediatricians or pediatric nurse practitioners: specialists in children's health and disease. Your pediatrician's office is the best place to start to talk about kids' health and nutrition needs.
- Nutritionists and dietitians: diet and nutrition experts who will evaluate your diet and nutritional habits and help you structure more healthful eating patterns and weight management strategies. In general, the license or certification as a dietitian can be obtained with a bachelor's degree and related supervised practice experience (or proof of RD status with the Commission on Dietetic Registration), while the nutritionist licensure or certification typically requires a master's degree or higher.
- Fitness instructors: teach group exercise programs, such as aerobics, step, Pilates, yoga and muscle conditioning. They will also sometimes help you develop an effective exercise plan.
- Personal trainers: will work with you one-on-one to assess your fitness level, develop an exercise plan and show you how to use equipment properly; they usually work at a gym.
If you decide to see a personal trainer, fitness instructor, nutritionist or dietitian, be sure that he or she is licensed or certified. Nationally recognized certifications include those from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Whenever possible, ask for a referral from your primary care physician. You'll also need to research the fees involved. While some health insurance companies cover nutrition services and weight training, others do not. Check with your insurance provider to find out what is covered by your health plan.
Researching Weight Management Programs
Do your homework before beginning a new weight-loss plan. The following questions will help you determine if a diet is healthy and legitimate or just a scam:
- Does the plan promise dramatic and rapid weight loss? If a program is promising results that sound too good to be true, they probably are.
- Does the plan exclude entire groups of foods? If a weight-loss plan excludes an entire group of foods, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein, you risk missing out on essential vitamins and minerals.
- Does the plan require extremely low calorie levels? Most experts agree that we need to consume at least 1,200 calories each day to maintain a healthy body. This is an absolute minimum; most people actually need more.
- Are you required to buy special foods or supplements to follow the program? These types of programs will drain your wallet without teaching you anything about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
- Does the plan address lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and improved eating habits? Realistic weight-loss plans should focus on the causes of your weight gain, not just on short-term losses, but on long-term lifestyle changes.
Remember, the key to weight management and, in turn, lowering your risk for heart disease is incorporating three strategies into lifelong practices—eating healthfully, exercising regularly and, for some people, changing your relationship with food.
Weight Watchers and other well-respected weight-loss programs focus on portion control and controlling calorie intake to help get you get started. But there are no quick-fix weight programs. HealthyWomen states, "The best 'diet' is a way of life that you can follow for the rest of your life."
Don't Forget Your Family
Make sure to seek the support of your family, too. This will make it easier to integrate heart-healthy changes into your everyday routines. Plus you'll be serving as a role model for your children, helping them to lead heart-healthier lives.
© 2013. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.Back to Heart & Home: Heart Health Guide Home Page
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