Start the new year off right by increasing your exercise and adjusting your diet to be more heart-healthy.

The new year is a perfect time to reflect on the past year and celebrate the healthy diet and lifestyle changes you have made for heart health. A long-standing tradition is to make a list of New Year’s resolutions for better health. These typically include losing weight or joining a gym. As we all know, many well-intended resolutions fade away by the end of January.

While resolutions can be hard to sustain, they don’t have to be. Setting achievable goals and maintaining commitment are the keys to success. Committing to three days at the gym each week may quickly become difficult, but who doesn’t want to improve their health? Here are some simple tips to help keep you focused on your heart health.

Drink more water

You’ve heard this before, but the fact still remains: drinking adequate amounts of water daily is a key for staying healthy. Drinking more water is also a strategy for eliminating sugary beverages from your diet, which may be contributing empty calories.

Eat fish/seafood twice a week

Seafood, especially oily fish like salmon and tuna, have cardiovascular benefits. Fish provide omega-3 fatty acids, high quality protein and many micronutrients such as vitamin B and D, selenium, and zinc.

Don’t forget breakfast

Starting the day off with a healthy meal — one rich in whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain bread) and lean protein (eggs/egg whites, low-fat/ skim milk or yogurt) — gives you the energy needed for a morning boost and helps control total energy intake throughout the day.

Go for greens & colorful produce

By keeping your refrigerator stocked with heart-healthy fruits and vegetables that are ready to eat, you will be successful with your resolution to eat healthy. If fresh doesn’t work with your schedule or habits all of the time, you can use frozen or canned. Just be sure to choose canned goods that do not contain added salt and sugar.

Move every day

Whether you begin a structured exercise program or just incorporate some movement as part of your daily routine, all activity adds up to a healthier heart. Take the first step by walking. It’s free, easy to do, and if you can find a walking companion you’re more likely to stay motivated. Look for opportunities to be more active during the day by parking far away from building entrances, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or taking 10–15 minute breaks while watching TV to either walk or do some other activity.

Eat more fiber

Fiber is crucial to heart health and reducing the risk of heart disease. Whole grains, as well as fruits, vegetables and legumes, are filled with fiber, which aids in digestion and helps the body feel fuller — both key factors for weight management.

Invest in a slow cooker

Using a slow cooker to cook is a great time-saver. After combining all the ingredients in the slow cooker, you can let your meal simmer while you are at work or engaged in other activities (like being at the gym). You can improve the nutrient content of your meals by including additional vegetables and choosing small quantities of very lean cuts of meat and poultry. Lean cuts of meat can be tough and dry. The longer time and moist cooking method of a slow cooker result in meats that are fork-tender without the addition of fat.

Make over your kitchen

Move your fruit bowl to the middle of your dining-room table or kitchen counter. You are much more likely to reach for an apple when it’s right there in front of you. Restock your fridge and pantry with foods that are good for your heart then remove the rest: (eg. foods that are high in sodium and added sugars).

Get a little nutty

Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet has been shown to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Instead of eating unhealthy saturated fats, try substituting a handful of nuts or a tablespoon or two of a nut spread. Dried beans, peas and lentils are also a plant protein substitute for animal proteins that are high in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of legumes, unsalted nuts and seeds a week.

Give yourself a break

In addition to the heart, sometimes the organ that needs care is your brain. If you are always driven to make each day as productive as possible, what you might need most is a day of relaxation. Put your to-do list aside for a day, or even a few hours, and give your heart the healthy foods it needs and your brain the time to refocus. Restoring and refreshing is just as important to your health as moving and eating right.

Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., FAHA, FNLA, FASN, CLS,
is a world-renowned expert and national leader in food and nutrition. She is the Distinguished Professor of Nutrition in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University, where she has been a faculty member since 1979. She has served on many national committees, including the United States Department of Agriculture, and is a Fellow of the American Heart Association. She has published over 300 scientific papers and has co-authored four books.