Take it to Heart

13 Tips for Cardiovascular Health

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, claiming the lives of over 650,000 each year. However, it is largely preventable. Making good lifestyle choices about diet, exercise and general well-being go a long way towards reducing your risk factors for cardiovascular disease and generally improving how you feel on a day-to-day basis. These tips will help keep your ticker in tip-top shape.

Stop Smoking

While quitting smoking definitely isn’t simple, it is the single most important thing you can do to protect your heart. Smoking significantly increases your risk of heart disease and heart attack and has negative effects on your blood vessels and lungs. After just 24-hours without a cigarette, your risk of heart attack decreases. After two weeks, circulation and exercise capacity improve. After one year, your risk is reduced by 50%, and by three years, it is nearly as low as someone who has never smoked.

Manage Stress

High levels of stress contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors. Many people cope with stress by drinking, smoking or overeating, all activities that also increase the risk of heart disease. Try managing stress in healthier ways, like seeing a professional counselor, meditating, exercising or joining a support group.

Aim for a Healthy Weight

Carrying extra pounds strains your heart and has been linked to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which increase the risk of heart disease. Talk to a doctor about what BMI – Body Mass Index – is right for you, and for your children. If weight loss is necessary, embark on a family journey that establishes healthier habits for the whole household as a means of keeping yourself motivated, because healthy habits benefit those who aren’t overweight as well!

Stop Drinking Your Calories

Eliminating just one sugar-laden soda, sports drink or latte each day can save you 100 to 150 calories, which equals a 10-pound weight loss over the course of a year.

Eat the Rainbow

Adding in even just one extra serving of fruit and vegetables each day is a heart-smart move, as it packs in vitamins, minerals and fiber and steers you clear of less-healthy, fattier snack options. Try portable fruits like bananas, apples and oranges in lunch boxes or back packs, or easily transportable veggies like baby carrots or grape tomatoes, instead of hitting the vending machine.

Go for Surf Over Turf

Substituting seafood as a protein choice over red meat a few times a week goes a long way for heart health. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are especially good, as their Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lower risk of heart attack and other cardiac issues. Fish is also lower fat and lower calorie than red meat, which will benefit your waistline.

Mind Your Sodium, Trans-Fat and Saturated Fat Intake

Too much sodium increases blood pressure, which is hard on your heart. Sodium is used in pre-packaged foods like frozen dinners and canned soups as a preservative, so take a minute to read labels and choose lower-sodium options; or, if you have time, cook fresh food yourself. Trans-fats, found typically in processed foods in the form of hydrogenated oils, and saturated fats, found mainly in animal sources like red meat, butter and cheese, can increase triglyceride and cholesterol levels and subsequently increase your risk for heart disease.

Go Nuts

The good fat and fiber found in nuts can actually help to reduce cholesterol and inflammation, improve the health of your blood vessels and decrease the risk of blood clots, all of which contribute to heart disease. A serving size is a small handful – about 1.5 ounces – or two tablespoons of nut better, and makes a great snack.

Add In a 10-Minute Walk

Even if you’re not a regular gym-goer, it’s important to stay active. Try to schedule a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood to start your day, at your lunch break to get you out of the office, or after dinner with the kids or the dog. If you’ve never exercised before, you’ll quickly feel your cardiovascular fitness improve, and you can graduate to jogging or biking to keep things interesting.

Lift a Little

If you want to go to the gym and start a regular strength training routine to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, great. But if you’re not so motivated to hit the weights, you can still exercise at home by doing bicep curls, lateral raises and shoulder presses with soup cans, hardcover books or jugs of water, or do bodyweight moves like air squats, planks and pushups. Studies show even five minutes of weight training per day has a positive effect on your heart.

Practice Good Hygiene

Flu and colds are hard on your heart and hand-washing helps to keep the whole family healthy. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and be sure to address your wrists, between your fingers and under your nails, where pesky germs can hide. There is also a link between oral bacteria and arterial plaque, which can lead to heart disease, so brush twice a day for a full two minutes.

Get Your Shut-Eye

Lack of sleep is linked to obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes, all of which increase your risk for heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night, but 1 in 3 Americans report they do not get that much. If getting into bed at an earlier time is difficult, try hitting the sack 15 minutes earlier each week until you’re getting the desired amount of sleep. Then, stick to that routine. Avoiding eating, drinking and exposure to artificial light for several hours before bed, sleeping in a cool, dark room and getting regular exercise will also help you sleep more soundly.

Be Grateful

Instead of counting your worries, count your blessings. Tapping into positive emotions reduces stress, high blood pressure and your risk of heart disease, while negative emotions are predictive of heart disease. Happy people sleep better, eat better, smoke less and exercise more, all of which have a positive impact on heart health.