For a vast majority of individuals, there’s not a day that goes by without them…
How to Improve Heart Health: 5 Steps to Success
Your heart health is made up of many elements, including:
- Factors you can’t control, such as congenital heart conditions and family history of heart disease
- Health conditions you can control, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes
- Personal behaviors, such as eating habits, physical activity, and smoking
If you are trying to figure out how to improve heart health during American Heart Month this February, begin with these five steps to enhance cardiac wellness and lower your risk of heart disease.
1. If You Smoke, Resolve to Quit
Smoking is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and many other serious health problems. If you smoke, develop a strategy to let go of the habit. Quitting is hard, but there are plenty of online resources available to guide you.
2. Choose a Heart-Healthy Diet
Many kinds of eating plans can contribute to heart health. In general, select foods that:
- Are low in saturated fats and higher in healthy fats—Saturated fats are found in fatty meats such as ground beef and in high-fat dairy. Healthy fat sources include avocadoes, nuts, seeds, and oils, such as olive oil.
- Are made with whole grains—Look for 100% whole-grain cereals, breads, and pasta.
- Contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, especially fresh fruits and vegetables—If you choose frozen or canned varieties, look for ones without added sugar or salt.
- Support muscle growth—Look for foods filled with healthy protein, such as beans, seafood, tofu, and lean meats and poultry.
Excess weight increases your risk for heart disease, so if you are overweight, your eating plan may also need to include a strategy to lose weight while getting all your nutrients. A dietitian can help you develop the eating plan that will best support your heart health.
3. Move Your Body More
Regular aerobic exercise—at least 150 minutes per week, or half an hour five days a week—is essential to maintaining heart health. If this sounds like a challenge, break the movement up into smaller sessions to get started. Aim to move vigorously enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
For extra benefit, add strength training two days a week. Building muscle mass helps improve heart health since lean muscle mass helps burn extra calories and can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Even if you have good exercise habits, sedentary behavior, or sitting for long periods of time, is also bad for your heart. Squeeze in other kinds of physical activity, such as taking a break from working on your computer to do a five-minute chore or a quick yoga flow, every hour.
4. Say No to Stress
Because stress affects your heart health, strategize how to manage stressors—things that make you worried or angry. Learning good time management, participating in an enjoyable physical activity, and taking time to breathe, meditate, and relax are all effective ways to reduce stress. If your stress feels unmanageable, talk to a friend, family member, or mental health professional.
5. Work With a Healthcare Provider
Your provider will check for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other factors that lead to heart disease. They will help you manage conditions that contribute to heart disease, whether through prescribing medication or recommending lifestyle changes, such as exercise for weight loss. If needed, they can provide a referral to a cardiologist.
If you’ve had a heart attack, your provider can advise you about returning to exercise safely or point you to a cardiac rehabilitation program. They can also suggest wellness classes or programs to support heart health.
If it’s been a while since you lived a heart-healthy lifestyle, it may take time to improve your heart health through lifestyle measures and medications. But it’s never too late to begin. A HeartSmart screening can help you get started by providing a snapshot of your cardiovascular health to share with your healthcare provider.
Find a cardiologist to guide your heart health journey.