Ask Jill Potter, RN, the number one way to lower your risk for heart disease and she doesn’t hesitate before responding: “get up and get moving.”

Potter – who has earned certification both as an Exercise Physiologist and a Cardiac Rehabilitation Professional – understands how the heart responds to exercise. She focuses on five habits for a healthy heart. An experienced member of the Cardiac Rehabilitation and Preventive Medicine team at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC), Potter begins with her number one call to action: exercise!

Habit 1: Get up and get moving.

To be considered heart healthy, exercise must both strengthen the heart muscle and burn body fat. This means pursuing moderate to vigorous exercise for at least two and a half hours a week that:

  • Builds cardiovascular strength
  • Increases endurance
  • Promotes strength through resistance training
  • Fosters flexibility

“You can break up your exercise routine so you’re doing aerobic exercise during one session and resistance training the next time, Potter said. “Stretching for flexibility should be part of every exercise session.”

Habit 2: Watch your weight.

A healthy weight is more than a number on your scale. It’s often calculated as Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. You can calculate your BMI here. “If your BMI is on the high-end, don’t get discouraged. The best thing to do is to increase your aerobic activity and decrease your calorie consumption,” Potter said.

Habit 3: Eat a heart healthy diet.

Consuming a plant-based diet is good for your heart as fruits and vegetables contain substances that may help prevent heart disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables also can cut cravings for high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods. “I like the darker fruits – blueberries, apples and grapes,” said Potter. “They’re high in antioxidants, which are good for the heart.”

In addition to fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy diets include plenty of nuts, whole grains and seafood. “People need to watch out for empty calories, like desserts made from white flour and any kind of soda,” Potter said.

Habit 4: Monitor your alcohol consumption.

Generally, limiting alcohol intake is good for your health. For men that means an average of one to two drinks a day and for women, an average of one drink a day. Drinking more alcohol increases your risk for high blood pressure, obesity and stroke. Some cardiologists, however, recommend an occasional glass of red wine with dinner as a way to maintain heart health. Check with your physician on the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.

Habit 5: Eliminate tobacco use.

Tobacco use is on the decline in the U.S., but electronic cigarettes – which contain nicotine – are becoming more widely used, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “People don’t understand that nicotine permanently scars the lining of the arteries,” Potter said. “The scarred lining makes it easier for blood clots to form. The bottom line is that any kind of tobacco use is bad for your health.”

Potter’s final recommendation? “Don’t take short cuts,” she said. “When you go shopping, look for the farthest parking place and walk to the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. An accumulation of activity helps your heart.”

Related: What’s Cooking?  Good Food and Good Health in Your Healthy Kitchen!