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Partners in Heart HealthCouple selecting produce

Make heart health an affair of the heart

It might have taken a lifetime of less-than-healthy eating and exercise habits to bring on your heart trouble or put you at risk of heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Changing those habits now won't be easy.

But learning how to involve your spouse or partner in your new healthy lifestyle might make things a lot easier — for both of you.

According to Lynne Braun, NP, PhD, a nurse practitioner with the Rush Heart Center for Women, having the support of a significant other can make a significant difference in whether a person sticks with a healthy diet, exercises and takes prescribed medications.

Here, Braun offers advice on how to create a heart-healthy partnership:

1. Manage your meds. 

Together with your partner, create reminders to help you take medication as prescribed (e.g., notes on the bathroom mirror).

2. Make exercise goals as a couple.

Exercise with each other as often as you can. Work together to achieve your physical fitness goals. If possible, get a family gym membership or join a recreational sports league as a couple.

3. Form a plan with your partner for exercising both outdoors and indoors.

Find activities you both enjoy, like bowling, tennis, running or swimming. If you have a dog, take it for walks together. If you don't, plan to go for after-dinner walks as a couple, especially when the weather is nice.

4. Shop and prepare foods smarter.

Go grocery shopping together, and make a list of what you need before you head to the store; this will help you avoid impulse buys.

Make meal prep a couples activity. Just don't prepare more food than either partner should eat unless it is for more than one meal.

Planning ahead for the week's meals is another great way to help you both on track. Look for healthy recipes you can make in larger batches, then divide into individual portions and refrigerate or freeze.

5. Discuss ways to change eating habits.

Once a week, substitute a healthful food, such as fresh fruit, for a less healthful one, such as potato chips. 

6. Rethink eating out.

You may eat out, but discuss how to make healthy menu choices or special requests, like putting sauces on the side or not including certain toppings.

For instance, if a meal comes with French fries or mashed potatoes, ask if you can get a side salad (just don't drown it in dressing) or steamed veggies instead. 

The good news is that many restaurants now include the calorie counts on their menus, so you can avoid consuming an entire day's worth of calories in one meal. 

And, of course, don't tempt each other by ordering a decadent dessert. It's a lot easier for each of you to resist if you both just say no. If you're craving something sweet after dinner, try a piece of whole fruit or a bowl of berries.  

7. Explore new restaurants.

Look for restaurants in your area that serve up healthier fare; you might find some new favorite places to dine.

8. Downsize your orders.

Share a dish at a restaurant to reduce portion sizes. Or ask the server to pack up half of your meal before you even see it.

9. Don't gobble your food.

Eat slowly and enjoy each other's company. Take sips of water throughout your meal, don't talk with your mouth full, and put the fork down between mouthfuls. 

10.  Take a lighter approach to party food.

When entertaining in your home or bringing a dish to a friend's home for a potluck, choose heart-healthy recipes. For appetizers, you can't go wrong with fresh veggies and light yogurt dip; hummus and whole wheat pita; or fresh fruit salad.  

If you're hosting a party, buy a bunch of takeout containers and send leftovers home with your guests.

11. Motivate each other, but don't nag!

Use past successes as examples to help you continue moving forward. If setbacks occur, that doesn't mean you've failed. It's important to start again.

Also, try to avoid being competitive about reaching any goals you set. As long as you're both getting healthier, and enjoying each other's company, you're on the right track.