Seven Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy

Preventing heart disease requires paying attention to many aspects of your life. Consider these 7 way to improve the health of your heart.

1. Avoid smoking and using tobacco products. The relationship between smoking and lung cancer is known, but smoking can also cause heart disease, stroke and other chronic lung diseases. Cigarette smoking may be to blame for one in five cardiovascular disease deaths. Smoking damages blood vessels and heart tissue, lowers good cholesterol (HDL), and contributes to high blood pressure. Smoking can also increase your risk for cancer of the bladder, throat and mouth, kidneys, cervix and pancreas, and is also linked to insulin resistance and diabetes. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.

2. Be physically active every day. Your heart is a muscle that needs to be worked regularly to stay strong and healthy. If you’re not burning calories, you’re storing them – as fat. Too much of this means higher triglycerides and LDL – both bad for your heart. At a minimum, 30 minutes of daily exercise can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. A healthy diet is one of the best ways to fight cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet should include whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish & skinless poultry, nuts and legumes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. A recent European study reported that eating eight servings of vegetables and fruits per day reduces the risk of heart disease by 22 percent. Eight servings sounds like a lot, but it’s not when you consider what a portion size really is: one small carrot, half a banana or one small apple. By incorporating a portion or two of vegetables and fruits into each meal or snack, you can easily reach this target.

4. Keep a healthy weight. Heart disease is higher in persons who are overweight or obese and can lead to heart attack and death. Carrying extra weight can raise your blood pressure, elevate your triglycerides, decrease HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, and put you at risk for other serious conditions, like diabetes and cancer. To keep your weight down, be mindful about diet and exercise. If you need help, speak with your doctor or consult a nutritionist.

5. Keep your blood pressure healthy. High blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is when the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. The damage to your blood vessels from undetected or uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other serious health threats. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers:

  • Systolic blood pressure (the upper number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

A normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm HG. Know your numbers!

6. Keep your total cholesterol healthy. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body, and especially your liver, makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through the blood. But cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Your liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats (Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Saturated fats that are solid at room temperature. Trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.). Try to eat more unsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oil, and less saturated fats, such as red meat or butter.

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, cholesterol can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. All adults age 20 or older should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years.

7. Keep your blood sugar healthy. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves, and increase the risk of diabetes. Diabetes alone is a very serious risk factor for heart disease. To control your blood sugar eat breakfast, include a protein in your meals and snacks, increase whole grains and fiber in your diet, and avoid refined sugar, processed carbohydrates, sodas and artificial sweeteners.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will lead to a healthy heart!