10 ways to live a heart-healthy lifestyle
Your heart works around the clock to pump blood and keep your body healthy. While it’s important to understand that you can’t control all risk factors, there are many things you can do to live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Getting regular exercise, eating at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, limiting salt and choosing healthier fats are just some of the ways you can look after your heart.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
The food we eat is crucial for our health. Eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
A healthy diet includes a range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein foods like fish or legumes. It also limits salt, sugar and saturated fats. It’s important to drink plenty of water a day and limit alcohol and junk foods.
2. Get Regular Exercise
Regular exercise protects against heart disease and wards off obesity, which is another major risk factor for a heart attack. Even moderate exercise for half an hour three to five times a week strengthens your heart muscle and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Try to get more exercise during daily activities, such as walking or biking to run errands. You can also jog in place or do jumping jacks while watching your favorite show on the weekend.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking can lead to many health problems, including lung disease and cancer. It can also increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
When you’re ready to quit smoking, make a plan and stick with it. Pick a date to stop, and surround yourself with smoke-free environments. When you feel a craving, chew sugar-free gum or mints, eat carrot sticks or take a walk.
4. Stay Active
Those diagnosed with heart disease are often told to overhaul their lifestyle. But making the big changes can be difficult.
Eating healthy is important, but so is getting active. Even small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from a store, can add up to more exercise. And exercise doesn’t have to be a formal workout, either.
5. Manage Your Blood Pressure
In some cases, healthy lifestyle choices alone can lower high blood pressure, but in others, medications are also needed. In either case, it’s important to take your blood pressure regularly and follow the doctor’s instructions.
Limit saturated fat, which can raise BP, to less than 6% of your daily calories. Use low-fat substitutes for cooking and eat fewer packaged foods that are loaded with salt.
6. Manage Your Cholesterol
Controlling your cholesterol is a key step in heart-healthy living. Too much cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in your arteries, which can narrow or block them and increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Get a cholesterol home test kit and check your levels regularly. You can buy them at some pharmacies or online. If you need to take medication to lower your cholesterol, follow your doctor’s instructions.
7. Manage Your Blood Sugar
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help control blood sugar. Add vegetables and fruits to your meals to provide vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
Cut down on heavily processed foods, such as packaged snacks, mac and cheese and drive-through meals. Also, check serving sizes on food labels.
While some risk factors for heart disease can’t be changed, like age and sex, lifestyle habits can greatly reduce your chance of developing heart disease.
8. Manage Your Weight
While family history and genetics play a big role in heart disease, there are many controllable risk factors like diet, exercise, weight, smoking and more. The best way to keep your ticker in tip-top shape is through preventative measures that will protect it for life.
Excess weight can add strain to your heart and is linked to high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes. Focus on portion control and eat healthy, balanced meals.
9. Manage Your Stress
Stress is a natural part of life, but it can take a toll on your heart. Learning how to recognize the sources of your stress and keeping it under control is essential.
Talking it out with a friend, meditating or engaging in a favorite hobby can help you cope. Physical activity can also provide quick stress relief and boost your mood.
10. Manage Your Blood Sugar
Keep your blood sugar stable by choosing foods low in fat and added sugar. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, and use the serving size information on food labels to guide portion sizes.
Try to exercise before meals to prevent post-meal spikes in blood sugar. Exercise also makes your body more sensitive to insulin, which helps you manage your blood sugar.
Limit your salt intake to less than 6 g (one teaspoonful) daily. Try adding herbs and spices to your meals to add flavor without sodium.