Your heart is an amazing muscle. It beats approximately 100,000 times per day – delivering blood and oxygen throughout your body – all without conscious effort on your part. Helping you keep your heart healthy and strong is the goal of the American Heart Association, and the focus of American Heart Month – celebrated every February. Heart disease remains a major health concern for adults – especially for seniors over the age of 65. Left untreated, heart disease can cause a heart attack or stroke. Leading a heart healthy lifestyle doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, but it does require a willingness to change. We gathered some practical tips for keeping your heart healthy and happy – just be sure to check with your doctor before making changes to your diet, or starting a new exercise program.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are numerous lifestyle choices and health conditions that can raise your risk for developing heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of Americans have at least one of the following major risk factors for developing heart disease – high blood pressure, smoking, or high cholesterol. Additional risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol
- Being sedentary
- Eating a diet high in saturated fats
Heart Healthy Tips
While there are some risk factors you won’t be able to change – namely family history – there is a lot you can do to lower your risk for heart disease. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends the following tips for preventing heart disease:
Know Your Numbers
Ignorance is not bliss – especially when it comes to your heart health. Your blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI all influence your heart health. Knowing your numbers will give you a better understanding of how healthy your heart is, and your risk of developing heart disease. Adults should be screened annually for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. Work with your physician to lower your risk factors for heart disease by making recommended lifestyle modifications and taking medications that are prescribed.
Smoking is not only a separate risk factor for heart disease, but it also worsens other risk factors that may be present. The Mayo Clinic shares that cigarette smoke limits the amount of oxygen in your blood. With less oxygen available, your heart needs to work harder to supply oxygen to your body and brain – which can cause high blood pressure. If you currently smoke – quit. Doing so can significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease. If you are having trouble quitting, your doctor may be able to help.
Move Every Day
Regular exercise offers numerous health benefits, including managing your weight, and lowering your chances of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. A brisk walk, water aerobics, or a relaxed bike ride are all examples of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise includes running, swimming, biking, singles tennis, and basketball. A mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise with strength training is ideal.
Watch Your Waistline
Carrying extra weight not only puts extra pressure on your joints, but it also increases your risk of developing diabetes, high blood, and heart disease. Extra abdominal fat has been linked to inflammation, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Losing just a small amount of weight – 3% to 5% -- can help lower your triglycerides and glucose levels. A combination of exercise and healthy diet are the best way to trim your waistline.
Heart Healthy Foods
Nutrition is just one of many lifestyle factors that can influence your risk of developing heart disease. Small changes to your diet will not only help to keep your heart healthy, but may improve your quality of life too. The Cleveland Clinic recommends including the following heart healthy foods in your diet:
- Fish – Look for fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, tuna, herring, and trout are all great choices.
- Nuts and Seeds – Also rich in omega-3 fatty acids – walnuts and almonds make a great snack that will keep you full. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also a good source of omega-3s, as well as fiber and plant-based protein.
- Berries – Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Top your morning bowl of oatmeal with handful of blueberries, or toss some strawberries into a salad at lunch or dinner.
- Vegetables – Try to incorporate a variety of veggies into your meals. Leafy greens like spinach and kale can be used in salads, cooked as sides, or blended into smoothies. Brightly colored vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and tomatoes are great sources of antioxidants and minerals that are also good for your heart.
- Oats – Small, but mighty – oats are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. Full of heart healthy nutrients including fiber, minerals, and vitamins, oats have been shown to lower bad cholesterol and help control your blood sugar. Not a fan of oatmeal? Try snacking on granola, or add raw oats to your morning smoothie.
- Legumes –Lentils and beans, both legumes, are a rich source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Black or kidney beans are perfect in a bowl of chili, while lentils can be used in soups and salads.
- Dark Chocolate – A good source of fiber and minerals, dark chocolate may help lower your blood pressure while increasing your level of good cholesterol. Enjoy a square of dark chocolate (70% cacao or darker) after dinner.
Get Some Rest
Sleep plays an important role in maintaining your physical and mental health. While you’re sleeping your body is hard at work repairing damaged cells and muscle tissues, balancing hormones, and improving memory and concentration. Unfortunately, a large percentage of Americans are sleep deprived – leaving them at risk for numerous health conditions, including heart disease. Experts recommend adults aim for an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, these tips from the National Sleep Foundation may help.
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