A comprehensive look at the factors involved in supporting heart health can be quite overwhelming, but let’s take a step back, break it all down and look at four simple tips for living a more heart-healthy lifestyle.
Food: Start making simple choices in your diet to promote heart health. According to the CDC, a heart healthy diet should be low in saturated fats and cholesterol in order to lower your cholesterol, and it should also restrict sodium to help maintain normal blood pressure.
Sticking to a heart-friendly diet becomes way easier if you sit down before going to the grocery store and plan your week of meals. Plan for variety and for balance, and you won’t want to stop eating healthy. With the right dose of thinking ahead of time, eating a heart healthy diet can be quite tasty.
Supplements: Even if you’ve planned out your meals, it can still be tough to get all the nutrients you need. That’s why you should discuss with your doctor adding supplements to your diet.
Ask if an Omega-3 supplement is right for you, because it can help support healthy levels of triglycerides and c-reactive protein, and increase your Omega-3 Index. Research has shown that maintaining those levels and increasing your Omega-3 Index may be associated with better cardiovascular health, not to mention joint and brain health.
Exercise: Regular exercise is absolutely crucial to a healthy cardiovascular system. All it takes is a half hour per day, five times a week to start obtaining the many associated heart health benefits.
Start getting back into shape by adding little bouts of exercise throughout your day. For instance, avoid the elevator at work and hit the stairs. Fit bodyweight exercises like pushups, lunges, or squats in as you can. Once you’ve finished your dinner, forget about the dishes and take a 10-minute walk in the fresh air.
Sleep: To continue being active, you must also get some rest. A long-term study at the University of Pennsylvania found that too little sleep is linked to an increase in the risk factors for heart disease. Getting your eight hours every night should be a no-brainer.
Blood pressure occurs as blood is pumped throughout your body from your heart, which exerts pressure against the artery walls. It is comprised of two parts:
- Systolic pressure: the amount of pressure present in the arteries when the heart contracts and the blood flows out through the body.
- Diastolic pressure: the pressure reading when the heart is relaxed and refilling with blood in between beats.
These are the categories of blood pressure levels as defined by the American Heart Association:
- Normal blood pressure: less than 120/80 mm Hg
- Prehypertension: 120/80 mm HG to 139/89 mm Hg
- Stage 1 hypertension: 140/90 mm Hg to 159/99 mm Hg
- Stage 2 hypertension: 160/100 mm Hg or higher
High blood pressure can damage arterial tissue and overwork the circulatory system, driving up the risk for cardiovascular issues and heart disease.
Blood pressure is impacted by lifestyle choices and genetics. While we can’t change our genes, we can lead a lifestyle that’s conducive to a healthy and normal blood pressure level. This includes regular exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, such as power walking. You should aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity 3 to 4 times per week to lower your blood pressure.
Other critical factors for lowering blood pressure are diet, weight management and factors like your Omega-3 index. Here are a five easy, related tips to consider:
- Balance your sodium and potassium intake
- Quit smoking
- Drink in moderation (1 drink per day)
- Indulge in some dark chocolate
- Practice meditation and breathing exercises
No one likes seeing the words "diet and exercise" prescribed, but these habits will naturally lower cholesterol and improve your quality of life and overall health.
Lowering cholesterol naturally starts with what you're eating. Try keeping a rough tally of what you eat every day for a week. It’s important to remember that foods high in saturated fats, trans-fats and cholesterol are easy to consume and difficult to avoid.
Once you know your weaknesses, find a balance that works for you. Replace some of the more tempting dishes with fiber-rich foods like vegetables, beans and fruits, and experiment with different recipes to find ways to add fresh produce to your diet without sacrificing taste.
Losing weight is another great way to lower cholesterol naturally (and it comes with a number of other benefits, such as lowered stress and joint relief). We want you to go about it in a healthy and fun way, so find a physical activity that you'll actually be excited to do. Dread the gym? Try dance classes, yoga studios or adult sports leagues, or find videos and tutorials to follow online from your home.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your cardiovascular health. The Surgeon General recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Those may sound like big numbers to fit into your busy schedule, but the benefits of exercise and the ways you can fit physical activity into your week show that the decision to exercise regularly is a no-brainer.
Getting adequate exercise on a regular basis can have a positive effect on just about all of the major risk factors for heart disease. Research shows that exercise can:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce body weight
- Reduce bad cholesterol (LDL)
- Increase good cholesterol (HDL)
Exercise allows you to live a longer life. According to a six-year study of middle-aged men published in 2011, maintaining and improving your fitness levels is associated with a significantly lower risk of death from any cause (15%) and death from cardiovascular disease (19%). American Health Association figures describe exercise as possibly lower the risk of heart disease in women by as much as 30-40%.
Easily fit exercise into your week by breaking it up. If you can’t do 30 minutes at one time, perform short segments of sustained exercise throughout the day—like a brisk, 10-minute walk after each meal.
To fit in a more vigorous routine, try interval training by repeating short, high-intensity bouts followed by rest periods of moderate intensity. If you work out on an exercise bike, warm up for about 10 minutes, then pick up the pace and ride at a near-sprint for 30 seconds. Follow this sprint with an easy-to-moderate recovery pace for 90-120 seconds. If you prefer to walk, try adding small bouts of jogging or power-walking into your usual routine. It’s that easy.
As always, you should consult your doctor before adding regular exercise to your life.