1. Get active each week
A healthy heart is one that gets exercised. Physical activity is essential to heart health. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week for good heart health. Whether you walk or run, play sports or swim, make sure you build enough active minutes into your week. It doesn’t have to be a chore—find a physical activity you enjoy and just stick with it.
2. Enjoy healthy fats, avoid unhealthy ones
Fat is fat, right? Not so fast. Foods actually contain healthy fats and unhealthy ones. Good fats from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Some fats, such as omega-3 fats, can even help heart muscles beat in a steady rhythm.
“Focus on the ones in foods like fish, nuts, avocado and olive oil. Limit your added fats, too, by trimming dressings, spreads, sauces and fried foods from your diet whenever you can,” says Herbalife director of nutrition education Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM and FAND.
3. Snap out of a sedentary lifestyle
Even if you exercise, long bouts of sedentary time can hurt your heart health. Sedentary activities can include things such as working on a computer, watching television or reading. Studies suggest that sedentary behavior may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an overall higher risk of death from any cause.
To avoid sedentary periods, get active in your free time. Build movement into your everyday activities and take frequent breaks to stretch your legs if you work at a desk.
“Our healthy heart recommendation, for desk-based workers, is to stand up for at least one minute every half hour and to take a five minute physically active break every hour. Studies show this will greatly reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Bridget Hill of Yaypo Wellness & Fitness.
4. Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
Smoking is known to be detrimental to your health, but did you know it’s also bad for your heart? Studies suggest smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks.
Smoking leads to a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, which is a chief contributor to deaths from smoking. Secondhand smoke is also linked to cardiovascular disease.
5. Shed excess weight
Excess weight is an enemy to your heart health—bringing with it a slew of health risks.
“Being overweight puts extra pressure on your arterial walls and forces your heart to work harder. It also puts you at risk for developing other diseases, such as atherosclerosis, which can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke,” says Rebecca Lee, RN and founder of Remedies for Me.
Studies suggest that excess weight around the middle puts your heart health at risk. Excess belly fat correlates with higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, two key risks to the health of your heart.
6. Avoid overeating through portion control
Your diet heavily contributes to the health of your heart. The nutrients you consume can either support a healthy heart of undermine it. Considering that excessive eating can lead to unhealthy weight gain, a major risk to heart health, so portion control and healthy choices become all the more important.
Portions ballooned through the past few decades and adults now consume 300 more calories a day than they did in 1985. Oversized portions make it easy to overeat without realizing it, so one must remain vigilant in sticking to healthy serving sizes.
7. Catch your Zs
You may be surprised to learn that sleep is essential to your heart health. That’s because deep sleep allows the body to go into periods of lowered blood pressure and heart rate, explains Chris Brantner, founder of SleepZoo.
“Sleep is an often overlooked key to a healthy heart. Regardless of age, weight or smoking habits, people who are sleep deprived are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease,” says Brantner.
Sleep is a necessity to your overall health, and not getting enough can hurt you in more ways than you may realize, especially for your heart.
“The body recovers by repairing itself and replenishing fuel sources with sleep,” says Dr. Allison Brager, neuroscientist and sleep researcher at Utzy Naturals. “One of the pioneering studies in the field of sleep examined risks for a heart attack during the week of daylight savings time. These studies have discovered that springing forward (potentially losing sleep) is linked to increased rates of heart attacks, and falling behind (potentially gaining sleep) is linked to decreased rates of heart attacks.”
As you can see, getting enough sleep isn’t a luxury to be enjoyed on your days off—it’s an everyday necessity to your heart health.
8. Eat cholesterol-friendly foods
High levels of bad cholesterol threaten the health of your heart. Limit the amount of foods that contain saturated fats, which can increase your cholesterol. These include butter, lard, fatty meats and full-fat dairy products. Instead, support your diet with foods that can naturally lower your cholesterol.
“Fill your plate with foods rich in soluble fiber, such as beans, sweet potatoes, berries, plums, broccoli and carrots, which help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels,” suggests Bowerman.
9. Harmonize your heart health with music
You may already know that listening to music can help you relieve stress. But did you know that music with slower tempos can also help you lower your blood pressure and improve your heart rate variability?
“Music subconsciously affects our mood. The right type of music can have a positively calming effect and has been proven to lower blood pressure. Listening to music for at least 30 minutes a day can lower blood pressure, slow down heart rate and decrease anxiety,” says Lee.
10. Take care of your teeth
The heart is tied to many functions of the body and can be affected by many seemingly unrelated functions. You may be surprised to hear that your heart health can be compromised by poor dental hygiene.
Studies show a link between the bacteria that causes gum disease and increased risk of heart disease. Taking care of your teeth and keeping gum disease at bay also reduces the body’s inflammatory response. Inflammation in the body can cause a buildup of substances in the blood that can worsen heart disease. So, be sure to brush at least twice a day and don’t forget to floss.
11. Aromatherapy can stifle stress and help your heart
Research shows that the effects of stress manifest throughout the body, affecting blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It can also encourage unhealthy coping habits, such as drinking and smoking, which can further damage the heart.
Managing stress in a healthy way can protect your heart. Take, for instance, aromatherapy.
“French lavender is a popular fragrance that is widely used as a relaxer,” says Lee. “This herb is also known to help decrease your blood pressure and heart rate. In fact, one study found that aromatherapy with certain essential oils can lower blood pressure.”