5 Tips for Better Heart Health
February is American Heart Month. Beyond the candy hearts and chocolates associated with Valentine’s Day, this month focuses on spreading awareness for heart health.
To improve your heart health, you need to prevent the risk factors that typically lead to heart disease. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and inflammation.
Here are 5 tips to give you better heart health.
1. Get more (and better) sleep.
A good night’s rest (typically between 7 to 8 hours) allows your heart to get some rest, too. It reduces blood pressure and stress, and regulates your appetite. When these things increase due to less sleep you increase your risk of heart disease.
A 2011 European Heart Journal study found that people who sleep less than 7 hours a night are 48% more likely to develop or die from coronary heart disease. Think about when you need to wake up each morning, and plan your bedtime so that it’s 8 hours ahead. If you struggle with falling asleep at night, follow these tips and tricks to get back to sleep.
2. Make healthier choices in the kitchen.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. The high cholesterol and blood pressure associated with obesity increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Adopting healthier eating habits is the best way to combat obesity and heart disease. One easy step is to stop going out or ordering in so much – the large portions and extra salt, sugar, and fat are not good for your heart. Instead, find some yummy recipes to cook at home so you can control what goes into your body.
Increasing your fiber intake is another way to combat heart disease. Fiber can lower your “bad” cholesterol and fill you up with nutrients that protect against heart disease. Fiber-rich foods also stay in the stomach longer, which makes you feel full longer. Fruits and vegetables are your best bet – most tend to be low in calories and high in fiber, making them great for your heart.
3. Give your heart a workout.
While exercising at least 30 minutes a day is beneficial, it’s not always enough for your heart. For good heart health, you need to be up and moving as much as possible. Monika Sanghavi, MD, said, “We now know that even if you exercise for 30 minutes a day, being sedentary for the other 23 ½ hours is really bad for your heart.”
Try not to immediately sit on the coach when you get home from work, and make sure you stand up and walk around your workplace as much as you can to get some extra movement in.
It’s also good to mix up your workouts. Cardio, lifting weights, interval training, and yoga all improve your heart health in different ways.
- Your heart rate rises during cardio exercise. This trains it to pump blood more efficiently. When each heartbeat delivers a bigger burst of blood, fewer beats are needed and your heart has less work to do.
- When you lift weights, your muscles contract, increasing overall blood pressure in the body. The heart adapts by increasing the thickness of the left ventricle wall, which makes the heart stronger and healthier.
- The continuous raising and lowering of your heart rate with interval training improves vascular function, burns calories, and makes the body more efficient at clearing fat and sugar from the blood.
- Practicing yoga is calming for your body – it lowers blood pressure and strengthens your core.
4. Stop smoking, and stop hanging out with smokers.
Smoking is bad for your whole body, but people tend to focus on lung damage rather than how it affects the heart. The nicotine and chemicals in a cigarette are harmful to your heart in many ways.
- Increase your heart rate
- Tighten major arteries
- Cause irregular heart rhythm
- Raise blood pressure
- Build up fatty plaque in the arteries
- Affect cholesterol levels
These things increase the risk for stroke and heart attack. The best day to quit smoking is today. Develop a plan for quitting, or talk to your physician about various treatments that will help you quit.
Even if you don’t smoke, secondhand smoke increases the risk for stroke among nonsmokers by 20-30%. The American Heart Association found that 40,000 people die annually of heart and blood vessel diseases caused by secondhand smoke.
If you have a friend or family member who smokes, provide your support to help them quit as soon as possible.
5. Stress less and do more of what you love.
The American Heart Association recommends that you laugh more. Seriously! Their research found that laughing can lower stress hormones, decrease inflammation in your arteries, and raise your levels of “good” cholesterol (aka high-density lipoprotein).
Having a positive outlook in general is good for your heart. The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health shared that sustained stress can add “wear and tear” to your biological systems, eventually leading to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can also cause heart strain.
The best way to combat this? Happiness! A Harvard study showed a link between emotional vitality – a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, and engagement in life – and a reduced risk in heart disease.
Spending more time with loved ones and doing activities you enjoy will make you a happier person with a healthier heart.
Drop the candy and celebrate American Heart Month the right way – by improving the health of your heart.