February is American Heart Month, and anyone who has been close to someone with heart disease knows exactly how important it is to keep your heart healthy and functioning well. While many people think it’s tough to keep a heart in great shape, the fact is that there are dozens of simple lifestyle choices that can promote a healthy heart and keep your ticker beating strong and sure for years to come.
10 Proactive Steps to Support Heart Health
Whether there’s a history of heart disease in your family, or you simply want to live a healthier, longer life, these ten simple lifestyle tips are ideal for supporting cardiovascular health and overall wellness.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Diet has far-reaching implications for all aspects of health. From supporting a healthy weight to decreasing the risk of diabetes and cancer, excellent nutrition can make you look and feel better. But did you know it can also help support a healthy heart?
According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet is one of the best weapons in the fight against heart disease. Per their recommendations, people who want to eat for a healthier heart should start focusing on eating more leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Low-fat dairy products and skinless fish and poultry are also recommended.
2. Get Active
Regular exercise is nearly as critical as diet when it comes to creating a heart-healthy lifestyle. In addition to promoting circulation and increasing the strength of the heart muscle, regular activity can help lower cholesterol, keep body weight in check, and support a happier and healthier outlook on life. As if that weren’t enough, regular activity can also lower your risk of dying from or being affected by heart disease.
For best results, develop an aerobic exercise routine that includes activities like walking, running, swimming, biking, or interval training. Each of these exercises promotes optimal heart health and keeps you feeling great.
3. Lose Some Weight
Losing weight changes your body’s balance of calories consumed to calories expended. If you lose a bit of weight, it helps your body function better and reduces strain on your heart. The American Heart Association reports that bodies in a healthy weight range circulate blood more efficiently, have an easier time managing fluid levels, and are less at risk for conditions like cancer, diabetes, sleep apnea, and, yes, heart disease. While eating well and exercising regularly will help you lose weight, it’s also wise to talk with your doctor to develop a unique weight loss plan that is healthy and sustainable for you.
4. Limit Your Alcohol Consumption
While it’s true that very moderate amounts of alcohol can have heart protective benefits, going overboard can have disastrous effects. To ensure that the alcohol you’re consuming helps rather than hurts your heart health, follow these guidelines:
- Limit Your Alcohol Intake. EverydayHealth.com says that heart-healthy drinking is incredibly moderate. While a 5 oz. glass of wine with dinner or a 12 oz. beer can give your heart a bit of a boost, going over more than one drink a day will have opposite effects.
- Stay Away From Sugary Drinks. In addition to packing excess calories, sugary drinks like cocktails made with syrup or blended margaritas can spike your blood sugar and wear down your teeth. Stick to beer, wine, or mixed spirits instead.
5. Stop Smoking
If you smoke, now is the time to stop. If you don’t smoke, be careful never to start. Smoking is one of the most damaging things you can do for your heart, and the effects are notoriously difficult to reverse. According to recent statistics, smoking is the cause of more than 440,000 cases of premature death annually. In addition to putting people at risk of developing heart disease, smoking also increases the risk of cancer and lung problems.
6. Keep Your Blood Pressure in a Healthy Range
While you can take blood pressure medication if you have chronically high blood pressure, it’s possible to keep it within normal ranges without medication, for many people. Many of the things that contribute to overall heart health will help with this, such as losing weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. While high blood pressure affects 1 out of four American adults, it’s a major risk factor for heart disease, and should be treated accordingly.
7. Stress Less
Stress is one of those things that can have a disastrous effect on virtually all aspects of your health – from destroying your happiness and mental wellbeing to putting you at increased risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety. To keep your heart healthy and strong, it’s critical to limit the stressors in your life. While researchers aren’t currently certain that stress causes heart disease, the correlation between stress and heart disease is clear – especially since excess stress often leads people to behave in ways that do cause heart disease, like overindulging in alcohol or smoking.
To lower your stress levels, establish a daily mindfulness practice or pick up a new hobby. Activity is also an excellent stress-management tool, as is maintaining healthy social relationships. Effective stress management allows you to take a break from the stressors that cause you anxiety, and focus on positive, healthy habits instead. Keep in mind that chronic stress or stress that is giving way to anxiety or depression may require an appointment with a doctor.
9. Start Laughing
They say laughter is the best medicine, and it’s true when it comes to your heart. When you laugh, it massages your heart’s endothelium, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and heart attack. Laughter also increases blood flow and helps to manage blood pressure levels. Fortunately, laughing more is much easier than starting a diet or exercise regimen!
To keep your heart healthy and the corners of your mouth turned up, be sure to make time for meetings with treasured friends and family that make you smile. You might also choose to see a comedy show or watch a favorite movie. The more you laugh – the more your heart will thank you!
10. See Your Doctor Regularly
In addition to living a healthy lifestyle, seeing your doctor on a regular basis is one of the best things you can do to keep your heart strong and catch any warning signs as they pop up. Remember that doctor visits typically become more frequent as you age, so be sure that you’ve found a great primary care physician that you’re happy sticking with.
A Healthier Heart Starts Here
In celebration of American Heart Month, people from all backgrounds and walks of life are pledging to take the first steps to lead happier, healthier lives – and now you can, too! With these ten tips, it’s easy to support heart health and enjoy a trimmer, more active lifestyle in the process.