Heart health is the state of your heart and its associated circulatory system. The benefits of having good heart health include:
- Lower risk for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery disease or peripheral artery disease
- Less chance of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke or heart attack if left untreated
How to Improve Your Heart Health
- Nutrition. Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean protein sources such as chicken or fish. Limit your intake of saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) and trans fat (found in fried foods).
- Exercise. Regular physical activity helps keep your heart strong by improving blood flow through the arteries around your heart muscle. It also helps control weight gain–a major risk factor for heart disease–and improves cholesterol levels.
- Stress management techniques such as meditation or yoga can help lower stress levels by reducing anxiety and depression while boosting endorphins (feel-good hormones). They may also help you get better sleep at night so you’re less tired during the day when it’s time to exercise!
- Sleep deprivation has been linked with high blood pressure and obesity–two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease–so be sure to get enough shut-eye each night!
Nutrition for Heart Health
- Eat a balanced diet. A heart-healthy diet is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also includes lean proteins like fish or poultry, low-fat dairy products and nuts.
- Reduce sodium intake by avoiding processed foods as much as possible and limiting your use of salt when cooking or eating out at restaurants.
- Avoid eating too many saturated fats found in meats such as beef steak or pork chops; butter; cheese; ice cream; cakes with frosting–and other high-fat foods such as French fries (potatoes), chips/crisps (potato slices), doughnuts/donuts
Exercise for Heart Health
The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Aerobic exercise is any activity that gets your heart rate up, such as walking, running or biking.
For best results:
- Try to include at least 2 days each week when you do more than 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity. This means briskly walking fast enough to talk but not sing (about 3 mph). Or you can use an exercise device that measures how hard you’re working, such as an elliptical machine or treadmill; aim for an intensity level between 7 and 8 out of 10 on those machines’ gauges.
- Include strength training at least twice per week by using weights or resistance bands–this helps build muscle mass and improves overall health. You can do these exercises in addition to your aerobic workouts or as part of another routine entirely (such as yoga).
Sleep for Heart Health
One of the most important things you can do to improve your heart health is to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Sleep also helps regulate hormones that control appetite and metabolism, so getting enough rest can help you maintain a healthy weight.
In addition to getting enough rest at night, it’s important to improve the quality of your sleep by making sure that you aren’t exposed too much light before bedtime (including from electronic devices). Light exposure late at night can suppress production of melatonin–a hormone that regulates circadian rhythms–and may make it harder for you fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.
Quitting Smoking for Heart Health
Quitting smoking is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your heart health. It’s also one of the most difficult, but with a little help and determination, it can be done!
- The benefits of quitting are immediate and long-lasting. Your risk of dying from heart disease decreases within 20 minutes after your last cigarette. Within five years, your risk will be half that of a smoker’s; 10 years later it’s down to about one-tenth what it was as a smoker–and keeps dropping from there!
- Quitting methods include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), prescription medications like bupropion or varenicline, or behavioral therapies such as counseling or hypnosis–or any combination thereof depending on what works best for you.* Support networks are key: find friends who’ve quit smoking before so they can offer advice; join an online support group like Smokefree World; attend local events sponsored by local hospitals or community organizations that offer free cessation classes.*
Heart Health Supplements
Supplements can be a great way to improve your heart health. Here are some of the most important supplements that you should consider taking:
- Fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids
- CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10)
- Magnesium and calcium
- Vitamin D
Heart Health Tests
- Blood pressure. Your blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries as it’s pumped through them. It can be measured in several ways, but a common method involves placing a cuff around your arm and pumping it up until it’s tight enough to stop the flow of blood. This causes an increase in pressure inside the artery, which can be measured by a gauge on top of or within the cuff.
- Cholesterol levels: High levels of cholesterol may increase your risk for heart disease, while low levels may indicate other health problems such as diabetes or thyroid disorders (which also affect heart health). You’ll likely get tested for cholesterol at least once during middle age; if you’re older than 45 years old and haven’t been tested before then ask about getting screened for high cholesterol during annual physical exams.
When it comes to heart health, the most important thing you can do is make lifestyle changes. The following are some of the most effective methods for improving your heart health:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Get plenty of exercise every day.
Cut down on smoking or drinking alcohol if you do either one (or both).
It’s also important to see your doctor regularly so they can check for signs of heart disease and help you manage any conditions that may be putting strain on your heart.