Every February, we recognize American Heart Month, a campaign that aims to spread awareness about heart disease and heart health. Heart disease occurs when the arteries that lead to the heart become clogged, and it’s an issue that leads to more than 600,000 American deaths every year. In fact, heart disease is the most common cause of death in America, affecting people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities.
Luckily, there are things you can do to keep your heart healthy and prevent heart disease. Read on for some healthy heart tips!
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
There are many different strategies you can employ to eat a heart-healthy diet and lower your risk of heart disease. We know that changing your eating habits can be tough, but even small changes can improve your heart health. Next time you’re shopping at the grocery store or cooking with what’s already in your pantry, keep these tips in mind:
- Watch portion sizes. Many Americans tend to eat larger portions than they really need. Pay attention to recommended serving sizes on the foods you eat; don’t be afraid to pull out a kitchen scale or measuring cups for help!
- Eat your fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are famous for their many health benefits. Fresh or frozen options, as well as low-sodium canned vegetables and fruit packaged in juice or water (rather than syrup), can provide your body with vitamins, minerals, and other substances that may help prevent heart disease.
- Choose whole-grain options. High in fiber and other nutrients that help your body regulate blood pressure, whole grain foods are a fantastic addition to a heart-healthy diet. Plus, it’s easy to work into your diet! Replace your usual fair with 100% whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, high-fiber cereals, or other whole-grain options.
- Limit unhealthy fats and choose low-fat options. It’s important to note here that not all fats are bad. While saturated and trans fats should be limited or avoided due to their negative impacts on your cholesterol, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like in olive oil and avocados, can actually help lower your total cholesterol.
- Reduce your sodium intake. Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which can result in heart disease. Reducing the amount of salt you add to your food, either while cooking or once served, is a good step, but most of the salt you take in throughout the day is from canned or processed foods. Make sure to look for reduced-sodium versions of food while shopping.
Exercise is good for our general health in many ways, but as far as heart health goes, it’s a great way to prevent heart disease. For instance, regular cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart, allowing it to pump more blood with less effort. This decreases the force of your blood on your arteries, lowering your blood pressure, and with it, lowering your risk of heart disease.
Also, exercise also helps move LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, out of the blood and into the liver, ultimately expelling it from your body. This lowers your LDL cholesterol levels, once again lowering your heart disease risk. Plus, given the connection between obesity and heart disease, it’s also worth noting that exercise can lead to weight loss, easing the strain on the heart.
30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular exercise is optimal for heart health, but this can be done in three 10-minute sessions if needed. The best part is how many different activities you can choose from, including running, swimming, biking, dancing, jumping rope, stair climbing, hiking, rollerblading, kickboxing, and martial arts. Challenge yourself to pick one that interests you and make time for it!
Quit Smoking (Or Avoid Starting)
Smoking and vaping are associated with a wide variety of cardiovascular issues. In particular, smoking causes many changes within the body, including raising blood pressure and heart rate, reducing blood flow and oxygen, increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, and damaging blood vessels.
Luckily, as soon as you , your blood circulation, blood pressure, and heart rate all see improvements. A few days later, breathing should become easier and your sense of taste and smell will improve, too. We know quitting isn’t easy, but it is worth it—it can cut your chances of getting heart disease in half!
Check Your Blood Pressure Regularly
Whether it be at the pharmacy or at your , having your blood pressure checked regularly can help you avoid heart disease. People with high blood pressure, while at a higher risk of heart disease, often experience no symptoms, even with dangerously high blood pressure. However, by working with a doctor and monitoring your levels, potential issues can be spotted early and cared for before it’s too late.