Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body—and it’s also one of the most vulnerable to disease and damage. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in women.
Thankfully, most heart-related conditions develop in response to habits and factors, most of which are preventable. You might have a naturally increased risk of heart disease due to genetic factors, but for the most part, your heart health is entirely within your control.
Essential Heart Health Strategies
So what can you do to improve your heart health on a regular basis?
1. Eat healthier foods. “Healthy" is a big, ambiguous word here, but there are several eating habits you can adopt to make your heart stronger and less susceptible to illness. For example, you can avoid high-calorie foods and foods high in trans fats, which are correlated with heart attacks. Too much sugar and sodium can also negatively impact your health, so keep high-sodium and high-sugar foods in moderation. Try to eat more foods that are high in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and increase your intake of lean proteins like poultry and legumes.
2. Exercise regularly. One of the most effective strategies to improve your heart health is exercise. Exercising regularly, at least a few times a week, can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease. The type of exercise isn’t that important; both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are associated with a benefit. So long as you’re working out vigorously, on a regular basis, you’ll be able to lower your risk (and improve your health in other ways, too). If you don’t feel like you have time to exercise, try to add in incidental exercise, such as biking to work each day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
3. Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake. Smoking and drinking are well-known as vices that are bad for your health, and both are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Your first priority should be quitting smoking as soon as possible, since it’s associated with many other health conditions. Then, reduce your alcohol intake, both in number of drinks consumed per session and in number of drinking sessions per week.
4. Reduce stress. If left unchecked, accumulated stress can increase your blood pressure and make you more vulnerable to heart attacks and other heart conditions. Take efforts in your daily life to reduce stress, and manage it when it comes up. For example, you can delegate some of your most stressful responsibilities, reduce your working hours, and commit to daily practices like yoga and/or meditation. Learn to recognize the signs of high stress, and take action proactively—before it becomes a threat to your heart.
5. Know your health conditions and take your medication. If you have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, become educated about the ramifications of your condition, and take your medication as directed by your doctor. Keeping these conditions under control is imperative if you don’t want to increase your risk of bigger, more severe heart conditions.
Strategies That May Surprise You
There are also several smaller strategies that can improve your heart health even further, according to Rush.edu:
1. Brush your teeth. Brushing and flossing your teeth is a good regular habit to have, but you may not realize its potential impact on your heart health. Brushing regularly can help prevent endocarditis, a dangerous condition where bloodstream-based bacteria can infect the heart valves.
2. Take vitamin C. Taking vitamin C supplements helps your body produce and maintain levels of collagen, which can keep your blood vessels strong.
3. Avoid BPA plastic. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a compound found in many types of plastic, and it’s associated with various health risks—including heart disease. Avoid it whenever you can.
You’ve heard some of these strategies before, but chances are, some of them are new to you. Make these simple lifestyle changes and commit yourself to improving the health of your heart; it just might increase your life expectancy.
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