MONDAY, June 19, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Adding plenty of exercise to a heart-healthy diet will go a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease, according to new guidelines from the American Heart Association.
"The key message of the recommendations is to focus on long-term, permanent changes in how we eat and live," Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee, said in a prepared statement.
"The previous recommendations stressed a healthy dietary pattern; the new ones broaden that concept to include the importance of a healthy lifestyle pattern. The two go together -- they should be inseparable," she added.
A team of nutritionists and experts on heart disease reviewed recent research in more than 90 scientific journals in developing the new guidelines.
The AHA's recommendations, published in the June 20 issue of Circulation, call for:
- Dietary reductions in saturated and trans fats, as well as sugars, for all healthy Americans age 2 and above;
- Plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables;
- Elimination of tobacco use;
- Maintenance of normal, healthy levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugars.
The biggest change in recommendations is the push for stricter control of weight and more emphasis on regular exercise. The AHA stressed that just by making a few changes in portion sizes, the foods you choose and the way you prepare them, cardiovascular health can be significantly improved.
"The point is not to calculate the amount of saturated and trans-fatty acids in the diet, but to choose foods that minimize your intake," Lichtenstein said. "For example, you can choose leaner cuts of meat and lower-fat dairy products, smaller serving sizes, avoid foods made with hydrogenated fat and include more fruits, vegetables, vegetarian options and fish in the diet."
Consistency is key, she added. "The changes can be small but need to be maintained. In no way are we saying people will have to give up all the things they enjoy; they just may have to make a few modifications in their current habits."
The new guidelines also point to ways health-care providers, restaurants, schools, and others can make cardiovascular health easier to achieve. For example, restaurants can offer smaller portion sizes, healthier food options and healthier meal preparation. They can also list nutritional information on menus to help people make better choices.
"A good first step to improve your diet and lifestyle -- start paying attention to portion size and liquid calories, such as those in soft drinks, [and] get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day," Lichtenstein said. "It does not have to be done all at once -- accumulating 30 minutes throughout the day is fine -- and, of course, more is better. No one is too old or too out of shape to make small changes to increase physical activity."
For more information about the new guidelines, visit the American Heart Association.