It has never been more important to take care of your heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States — one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. These are some scary statistics, but luckily, you can begin taking steps today to lower your risk of heart disease and add more years to your life.
We've put together a list of 10 healthy habits you can adopt to feel better and improve your overall wellness and heart health.
1. Eat heart-healthy foods
Everyone knows that a healthy diet has many benefits — it can help protect the heart, improve cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. A heart-healthy diet includes:
—Fruits and vegetables
—Beans and other legumes
—Lean meats and fish
—Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods
—Healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocados
2. Quit smoking
Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Smoking damages the lining of arteries, reduces oxygen in the blood, and raises blood pressure.
Smokers are two to four times as likely to have heart attacks compared to those who do not smoke. It also doubles a person's risk for stroke. It's incredibly important to avoid smoking, but also secondhand smoke.
Studies have shown that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25–30% higher for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work.
3. Cut back on alcohol
Excessive alcohol use can increase blood pressure and cause abnormal heart rhythms and damage to the heart muscle. But you don't have to totally cut alcohol out of your diet; just make sure you drink in moderation and follow the guidelines to lower your risk of heart disease.
4. Keep your weight down
Being overweight can increase your risk of high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure — all factors that contribute to heart disease. Cutting back on alcohol, exercising more, and eating more fruits and vegetables can help with losing excess weight and keeping it off in the long run.
5. Get your body moving
Try to aim for 30–60 minutes of physical activity each day. Exercising can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. It also works wonders for energy and mood levels. If you're new to exercising, you can slowly work your way into a routine by starting off small.
Try walking at a brisk pace for 20 minutes several days during the week, or, aim for activities that require a lot of moving around — gardening, housekeeping, and walking the dog are all great choices. These short, lower-impact activities will help you start and build up an exercise routine. If you haven't exercised in awhile or have not regularly exercised before and you have a few health concerns, we recommend consulting your doctor beforehand.
6. Don't skip flossing
Many people might not know this, but gum and heart health are strongly related. Poor dental health increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the blood stream, which can affect heart valves. Flossing helps remove plaque from teeth, which if not taken care of, can lead to tooth loss and tooth decay.
For healthy dental hygiene habits, it's important to brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
7. Manage your stress
When you're feeling stressed or burned out, you're more likely to indulge. And you'll probably indulge in unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, and eating junk food. Finding alternative ways to manage stress like meditation, exercising, and doing yoga can help improve your health and lower your risk of heart disease.
If you're finding yourself constantly stressed and pushed to your limit, consider finding the root of your stressors. It's important to find permanent solutions to remove stress from your life if possible. Yoga, meditation, and regular exercise are great for reducing stress levels, but ideally dealing with the source of your stress will lead to long term results.
For example, if your high stress levels are caused by working late hours week after week, sit down and map out where you can reduce your workload and possibly delegate tasks to others. It might even help to speak with your supervisor about feeling overworked, and work together to find a solution.
8. Eat foods rich in omega-3s
Omega-3s improve your heart health because they improve cholesterol levels. They slow the buildup of plaque, which is comprised of fat, cholesterol, and calcium, which hardens and blocks your arteries.
You can find omega-3s in oily fish like salmon, trout, fresh tuna, sardines, and mackerel. You can also get omega-3 fats from spinach, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
9. Cut back on sugar and salt
High amounts of sugar and salt increase blood pressure, which means there is an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. You can cut down on the amounts of sugar and salt you intake by eating less takeout and cooking more meals at home; you have much more control over what goes into your body when you prepare your own meals, especially when it comes to sodium (salt) levels.
If you have a sweet tooth, trying opting for fresh fruits or yogurt instead of chocolate, ice cream, or other sweets. Combatting sweet cravings with healthier options will help you stay on a healthy diet and avoid an increased risk of heart disease.
10. Control your cholesterol levels and blood pressure
High blood pressure and cholesterol levels have a direct link to heart disease. High blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart, leading to heart disease. With high cholesterol levels, you can develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Over time, the deposits grow and make it difficult for enough blood to flow through your arteries.
You can take control of high cholesterol and blood pressure by adopting a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and other lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Exercising on a regular basis and getting enough sleep can also contribute to lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Follow these 10 lifestyle tips — your heart will thank you for them. By taking control of your heart health, you'll be able to feel better, stay active, and live a longer, healthier life.