Your heart is one of the most important muscles in your body, so why not take care of it? You may not be able to control some factors when it comes to heart health, such as the effects of aging and genetics, but there are things you can do to keep your heart healthy.
Here are some tips to keep your heart pumping at its best!
Keep Chronic Medical Conditions Under Control
Diabetes. If you are being monitored or being treated for diabetes, be sure to check your blood sugar levels regularly. It is important to keep blood sugar levels under good control to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle modifications, medications, or both for the treatment of diabetes.
Cholesterol. Elevated levels of cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in the arteries around your heart, leading to heart disease. Everyone’s risk factors are different, so talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors and follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations to get your cholesterol under control.
High Blood Pressure. Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms. High blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, so it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider may recommend you monitor your blood pressure at home. You may be prescribed medication and may be advised to make lifestyle changes including reducing sodium levels and increasing physical activity to help get your blood pressure in better control.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being obese or overweight increases your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference are important measures for determining healthy body weight. Goals of weight management for prevention of heart disease include a BMI less than 25 kg/m2. Increased waist circumferences have also been associated with higher risks of heart disease. Waist circumference goals include measurements of less than 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for women. Health benefits in obese people can be seen with a weight loss of as little as 5% of body weight.
Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
Closely connected to keeping chronic medical conditions under control and maintaining a healthy weight is eating a well-balanced diet of real food.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid processed foods and foods with added sugars.
- Avoid sugary drinks and juices. Drink water instead.
- Limit the amount of saturated fats and unhealthy fats you eat.
- Eat foods that are high in soluble fiber, such as beans, oatmeal, and apples, to name a few. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol by attaching to cholesterol in the intestines and removing cholesterol from the body.
- Do not consume more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. If you have high blood pressure, limit your sodium intake to at most 1,500 milligrams per day.
- Be mindful of your portions. It is not uncommon for people to eat portions that are greater than a serving size, which increases the number of calories consumed, which in turn, can lead to weight gain. Serving sizes are listed on a product’s nutrition label based on manufacturer suggestions. Portions, on the other hand, are how much you choose to eat or drink. For example, a serving size of bread is usually one slice; rice or pasta is usually ½ cup cooked; meat, poultry, or fish is usually 2–3 ounces. Some ideas to help you consume healthy portion sizes include:
- If you go out to eat, share an entrée. Skip appetizers.
- Put extra food away and save it for leftovers.
- When snacking, measure out the serving size, and eat your snack from a plate or bowl rather than out of the box or bag.
- Don’t eat while watching TV or a movie. It’s harder to control what and how much you are eating when you are distracted.
Like the other muscles in your body, your heart is a muscle that needs to be exercised. So move your body!
- To help reduce the risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.
- Examples of moderate physical activity include brisk walking, dancing, gardening, doubles tennis, and slow biking (less than 10 miles/hr).
- Examples of vigorous physical activity include running, swimming laps, hiking uphill, singles tennis, heavy yardwork, jumping rope, and fast biking (greater than 10 miles/hr).
- Pedometers or activity trackers may be helpful as they can help you hold yourself accountable for moving.
- Remember, any activity is better than inactivity, but before starting any new exercise regimen, check with your healthcare provider.
Reduce Your Stress
Studies have shown that people who react to stress with anger have an increased risk of heart problems, including heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Find ways to help control or manage your stress and reactions to it.
- Use relaxation tools such as deep breathing and meditation.
- Take at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time out of your day for yourself.
- If you are in a stressful situation, step away before reacting.
- Do things that make you happy such as reading, exercising, meditating, or reaching out to friends or family for support.
Stay Away from Tobacco
One of the single most important lifestyle changes when it comes to heart health is to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Even if you have smoked your whole life, quitting at any time helps prevent further risk of heart disease among many other chronic illnesses.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women daily.
See your Healthcare Provider for Regular Checkups
Getting regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help you and your provider identify your specific risk factors. You and your healthcare provider can come up with a plan to coordinate healthy lifestyle changes, nutritional changes, and medical therapy (when needed) to help keep you at your healthiest!
American Heart Association, “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids,” https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults
American Heart Association, “Heart-Health Screenings,” https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/heart-health-screenings
American Heart Association, “Portion Size Versus Serving Size,” https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/portion-size-versus-serving-size
American Heart Association, “What’s the Link Between Physical Activity and Health?,” https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-rehab/getting-physically-active/whats-the-link-between-physical-activity-and-health
Johns Hopkins Medicine, “For Your Heart: Stay Calm and Cool,” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/for-your-heart-stay-calm-and-cool
Leigh Perreault, Caroline Apovian, “Obesity in adults: Overview of management,” UpToDate, updated April 28, 2020.
National Institute on Aging, “Heart Health and Aging,” https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging
Stephen L. Kopecky, Anna Svatikova, “Exercise and fitness in the prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” UpToDate, updated February 14, 2020.
Tamam N. Mohamad, “Primary and Secondary Prevention of Coronary Artery Disease,” Medscape, updated November 27, 2019, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/164214-overview#a6
WebMD, “Heart Health Tips,” https://www.webmd.com/heart/heart-health-tips#1