You may have heard that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. The good news is that there are several proven lifestyle changes everyone can make to help reduce the risk. Here are five ways you can help strengthen your ticker.
1. Keep it moving
Your heart is a muscle and—just like your biceps—it gets stronger when you exercise it. People who don’t exercise are twice as likely to get heart disease as those who are active. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends thirty minutes of exercise a day, five times a week to improve overall cardiovascular health. Being physically active helps you lower your blood pressure, reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and boost your HDL “good” cholesterol. Keep in mind that physical activity is anything that keeps you moving and burning calories–it doesn’t have to be the gym. Try activities you enjoy — like biking, dancing or swimming—so you can stay excited and motivated.
2. You are what you eat
Making sure your body gets the right nutrients is a critical way to maintain a healthy heart and prevent disease. A nutrient-rich diet includes: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish and nuts and legumes. On the flip side, to keep a healthy diet, you need to cut back on foods that don’t give you nutrients you need. This means limiting foods with added salt and sugar and avoiding trans fats.
3. Manage cholesterol and blood pressure
High cholesterol and blood pressure are major contributors to heart disease that can be controlled. It’s important to work with your doctor to understand your levels and range. In addition to lifestyle changes your doctor may prescribe medications that can help you get on track.
4. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your health. If you need another reason to quit, according to AHA, smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis—the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries—which can lead to coronary heart disease and stroke. There’s also clear evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke will increase your risk of heart disease.
5. Manage stress in a healthy way
The way you manage stress can trigger unhealthy behaviors—like smoking or overeating—that are known contributors to heart disease. Finding healthy ways to manage stress is an important part of overall wellness. Breathing exercises, daily relaxation or meditation, exercise and many other approaches can help you manage stress in a positive way.
Create a plan for yourself that helps you implement these lifestyle changes so that you can benefit from a healthy heart. Make sure to talk to your doctor about your specific risks for heart disease and what additional actions you can take for a healthier you.