You can’t live without your heart. However, you might not pay too much attention to this organ’s health until trouble strikes. Fortunately, it’s not hard to take proactive steps to keep it pumping strong.
Preserving your ticker can help you lead a longer, better quality of life. Here are eight smart heart tips that will maintain this precious organ so that you have more days on earth with those you love.
Exercise is vital to a healthy heart. This rule holds even if you have an existing condition. According to a 2013 study of over 5,000 participants with vascular conditions, routine fitness reduced the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) events by 21% in men, and 29% in women.
The American Heart Association recommends getting 40 minutes of moderate exercise three to four days a week. This guideline is similar to the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends 150 to 300 minutes each week.
What matters is elevating your heart rate. Many people think of going for a bike ride, walk or run to get their cardiovascular conditioning. However, you can also get the necessary work with the right weight workout — for instance, by performing compound movements or taking a weighted HIIT class. Even some vigorous yoga forms increase your heart rate.
What if you have a chronic pain condition that makes movement problematic? Hop in the pool. The buoyancy of the water removes pressure from creaky knees and hips. Plus, you up your social quotient, further reducing your cardiovascular risks. Social isolation and loneliness increase women’s risk of heart disease by 13 to 27%.
2. Reduce Your Red Meat Consumption
When you think of red meat and heart health, it’s probably the saturated fat content that raises your eyebrows. This stuff can increase your risk of coronary disease. However, some plant-based foods like coconut milk and oil also contain saturated fat and affect your cholesterol differently.
One study investigated the effects of coconut oil, olive oil and butter on blood lipids. While coconut oil and butter increased LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, the result wasn’t nearly as marked in coconut oil. Additionally, coconut oil increased several positive biomarkers, including HDL or “good” cholesterol. Scientists cite the need for further research.
Another study of over 1.4 million people indicated the following:
- Eating 50 grams or more of processed meats like bacon and ham increased your coronary heart disease risk by 18%.
- Eating 50 grams or more of unprocessed beef, lamb or pork increased coronary heart disease risk by 9%.
Something there is in animal products that isn’t kind to your heart. Should you adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet if you run an elevated risk? Possibly, if your doctor recommends it. However, meat is a complete protein that provides several other health benefits, so reducing your intake to once or twice a week is kind for your ticker without leaving you deprived.
3. Lay Off the Salt
If you reach for the salt shaker before tasting your meal, please stop that habit if you care about your heart. According to the DASH diet study, reducing your salt intake by three grams a day positively affects your blood pressure. You get even better results by slashing 6 or 9 grams, doubling or tripling the benefits.
What about salt substitutes? Many commercial products contain potassium, which can lower your blood pressure. However, doing so also creates problems, as this mineral likewise impacts heart health. If you opt for this route, check with your doctor and use moderation. Ultimately, you’re better off seasoning your food with herbs and spices instead of the shaker.
4. Eat a Plant-Based, Whole Foods Diet
You could technically live on chips and apple pie and call it a plant-based diet, but your heart wouldn’t thank you much. Besides the salt content, you’d miss out on valuable vitamins and minerals your body — including your cardiovascular system — needs.
Besides, consumption of ultra-processed foods increases your Type 2 diabetes risk, which in turn harms heart health. Much of the one-two punch comes from foods laden with white flour. This stuff contains alloxan, a chemical byproduct released during the bleaching process. Scientists use it to induce diabetes in laboratory animals and when you combine that effect with the rapid blood sugar spike these foods cause, you have a recipe for disaster.
To improve your heart health, stick to whole foods close to their natural form. Look at your plate as a clock and fill half of it with the fresh leafy greens and brightly colored stuff at every meal.
5. Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress makes multiple body systems go haywire. Your neurotransmitters and hormones go all out of whack, making you feel worse. Cortisol, a hormone your body releases too much of under long-term pressure, can increase blood cholesterol, sugar, sugar and pressure.
That’s not the only problem that too much stress can cause for your heart. It also involves your mind. Research from Australia suggests that chronic stress rewires your brain, prompting it to keep your blood pressure elevated. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack and failure.
6. Don’t Smoke
If you still smoke, please take advantage of free resources to help you quit. This habit damages several organs, including your heart.
Smoking increases plaque formation in arteries and veins. When blood vessels to the heart become blocked, it can lead to an attack. Smoking also thickens the blood, making it more likely to clot and impede vessels.
7. Cut Back on Drinking
Please disregard the advice to drink a glass of red wine daily for heart health. While one drink won’t hurt you, you’ll get the same antioxidant benefits from a non-alcohol glass of grape juice — and it may be the better choice for your heart.
Even one drink elevates your blood pressure slightly. The effect quickly wears off once you stop drinking. However, ongoing overindulgence can lead to extremely high numbers that increase your risk of a heart attack or failure. If you do drink, please stick to no more than one or two per day, and if you don’t currently indulge, don’t start.
8. Talk to Your Doctor
Your doctor is ultimately your best source of advice for keeping your heart healthy. They can help you calibrate your home blood pressure device so that you can keep tabs on your numbers at home. Additionally, they can recommend advanced testing like echocardiograms and stress tests to monitor you if they identify a problem.
Your doctor is also your go-to resource if you take medications, drink herbal tea, or take supplements. While most interactions are safe, some can cause trouble — please write a list to check at your next appointment. For example, taking potassium with blood pressure medications can lead to trouble.