A healthy heart is the key to a happy and flourishing life. Many factors can weaken our immunity, including stress, smoking, alcohol, and a bad diet. The good news is that adopting a few healthy habits can go a long way toward keeping your heart strong. Here are eight ways you can start today:
1. Understand nutrition labels
You’ve probably heard by now that the nutrition facts on food packaging are not a guarantee of how healthy the food is, and that’s true. Despite what you see on the box, many foods that are healthy in one way can be unhealthy in another. While choosing foods based on your likes and dislikes is okay, you can also choose foods based on their nutritional value. Combine that with an understanding of which nutrients are essential for a strong heart, and you can dramatically improve your health.
2. Exercise regularly
Although everyone may be aware that regular exercise is vital for your health, many people don’t get it. You may have repeatedly heard that you must exercise 45 minutes a day, five days a week, to reap the benefits of staying active. However, experts now recognize that exercise doesn’t have to be long to be beneficial. As little as 30 minutes a day can make a difference. People of any age can reap benefits from exercise, including those with heart disease. Exercise helps to improve blood flow by increasing the amount of blood your heart can pump with each beat.
3. Stop smoking
If you smoke, stop. There are many health benefits to quitting, but most importantly, cigarettes can damage your heart and lungs. You will improve your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood flow when you stop smoking. Simply quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease by nearly 50%.
4. Manage stress
Stress is a normal part of life, but when it’s constant, it can really take a toll on your health. It can prompt your body to produce excess cortisol, which can damage your heart. While stress is normal and inevitable, it can be reduced by taking some time for yourself. This can be as simple as sitting quietly and doing what you enjoy for 20 minutes or as elaborate as booking a massage or booking a vacation away from the daily grind.
5. Ditch the salt
While the body requires some sodium to help balance fluid levels and regulate muscle and nerve function, too much can be harmful to our health. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (which is only about a teaspoon of salt) — 1,500 milligrams per day, ideally. But the average person actually consumes more than 3,400 milligrams a day and most likely doesn’t even realize it. A low-sodium diet not only helps control cardiovascular health, it benefits your health in a variety of other ways as well:
- Lowers your risk for kidney disease:
With less sodium in your system, your kidneys don’t have to work as hard to remove excess fluid from the body.
- Builds stronger bones:
Too much salt can result in calcium loss from the bones. Lowering salt intake helps maintain bone strength.
- Decreases the chance of liver disease:
A low-sodium diet helps manage the buildup of fluid in the abdomen.
- Helps control diabetes:
Lowering your sodium intake helps you maintain normal blood pressure levels and keep blood sugar under control.
- Can lower the risk of stomach cancer:
Reduced sodium correlates with less H. pylori bacteria, a high-risk factor for stomach cancer.
6. Avoid processed food
Processed foods, such as ready meals, baked goods, and processed meats, can have negative health effects. Most food needs some degree of processing, and not all processed foods are bad for the body. However, chemically processed foods, also called ultra-processed foods, tend to be high in sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats. Because of this, they are a major contributor to obesity and illness around the world. These ingredients are linked to heart disease, weight gain and poor nutrition. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on the ingredients in everything you eat.
7. Adopt a plant-based diet
While healthy eating is vital for everyone, it’s especially important for those with heart disease. A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables can help to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol levels, and improving blood flow. You can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease by eating more fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium. Interestingly, a potassium-rich diet is linked to many powerful health benefits. It may help reduce blood pressure and water retention, protect against stroke and help prevent osteoporosis and kidney stones. Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans
A healthy heart is central to overall good health. Embracing a healthy lifestyle at any age can prevent heart disease and lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke. You are never too old or too young to begin taking care of your heart. True, the younger you begin making healthy choices, the longer you can reap the benefits. But swapping good habits for bad to promote good health can make a difference, even if you’ve already suffered a heart attack. The good news is that it is possible to decrease your risk by making changes in the way you live your life. Even if you have a family history of heart disease, the power of prevention is on your side.