Diet or Exercise: Which You Should Focus on for Heart Health

Improving your heart health can feel overwhelming. With so many solutions, suggestions and guides aimed at maintaining a healthy heart, it’s hard to tell what you should truly be focusing on. Typically, heart health recommendations prioritize a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. However, few actually dive into which is more important to focus on and why. So which factor is more important for heart health: diet or exercise?


It’s no surprise that exercise improves your overall heart health, but by how much? Your heart is a muscle and, just like other muscles in the body, it gets healthier and stronger the more it’s worked out. While you may not need to train like a professional athlete, a moderate level of exercise has proven beneficial to heart health, time and time again. Research shows that something as simple as taking a 30-minute brisk walk every day can make a difference. According to the Center for Disease Control, one of the biggest risks for heart disease is an inactive lifestyle. In fact, people who don’t exercise are twice as likely to get heart disease versus those who do. As you begin working your cardiovascular muscles, not only do you burn calories, you also lower your blood pressure, reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and boost HDL or “good” cholesterol. 


For many people, when they see the word “diet” they typically think about Whole30, Atkins or other popular fad diets. However, when eating for a healthy heart, dieting is quite different. When looking at what a heart-healthy diet looks like, consider nutrients. While you may be eating a diet restrictive of fats and/or carbs, do you know how much nutrition you are truly getting? 

A nutrient-rich diet is composed of various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a variety of fish, poultry and low-fat foods. However, depending on your current health condition, your doctor may encourage you to avoid certain food groups. The Mayo Clinic suggests that people with high cholesterol avoid fatty foods such as red meat, full-fat dairy products and trans fats. For those with high blood pressure, the Mayo Clinic suggests reducing your consumption of salty foods and increasing your intake of calcium, potassium and magnesium (often found in fruits, vegetables and grains). By following a heart-healthy diet, you’re not only able to increase your daily intake of naturally occurring vitamins and nutrients, but you also lower your risk for obesity–a primary contributor to heart disease.

So, which should you focus on: exercise or diet?

The short answer–both. The American Heart Association suggests establishing healthy lifestyle habits through both diet and exercise. As mentioned above, both an inactive lifestyle and poor diet are the main contributors to heart disease. By prioritizing both, you significantly lower your risk of heart disease. 

Interested in what a heart-healthy diet and exercise plan looks like for you? Visit our website or give us a call at (615) 384-2411 to learn more about your options.