February is American Heart Month, a time to encourage people to adopt heart-healthy behaviors and lifestyle changes as well as educate people about cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is not always preventable, but there are steps you can take to improve both your outcome and your quality of life. Read on for ten tips on maintaining good heart health!
1. Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep is a major national health concern, but one that's often ignored. It also has major effects on your heart health: studies have shown that adults who sleep 7 or more hours a night had less calcium in their arteries (an early sign of heart disease) than those who slept 5 hours or less.
2. Monitor Your Blood Pressure
Monitoring your blood pressure is an important regular step to track your heart health. High blood pressure is a sign that your heart is working too hard to pump blood, and the resulting damage to your artery walls can make it harder for blood and oxygen to travel to and from your heart. This wears out your heart over time.
3. Eat Healthier
A heart healthy diet with enough necessary vitamins and minerals is a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease. You can achieve this with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat proteins, and low-sodium options. Cut down on alcohol, processed foods, sugary snacks and drinks, salt, and unhealthy fats. Be sure to control your portion sizes and plan meals in advance to make better choices, and consult a medical professional for guidance on developing a healthy diet.
4. Reduce Your Cholesterol
To help your heart's arteries function better, cut down on cholesterol by reducing your intake saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and full-fat diary products, so you can cut them significantly by choosing leaner cuts and reduced fat options. Trans fats, which are found in some processed foods, increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Make healthy dietary choices and be sure to have your cholesterol tested regularly as well.
5. Test Your Blood Sugar
It's increasingly common to develop diabetes, but many people are still unawre they have it. Over time, high blood sugar damages arteries, making heart disease more likely. You should test your blood sugar regularly, especially if you're 45 or older, pregnant, overweight, or if you have other risk factors for diabetes. If you're prediabetic, possessing borderline high blood sugar, you can prevent a full diabetes diagnosis by making positive dietary changes with guidance from a medical professional.
Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week of moderate intensity exercise. This includes any activity that gets you active and breaking a slight sweat. Pay attention to how much time you spend sitting down, whether it's at work, in your car, or on your couch: a sedentary lifestyle is extremely bad for your heart, so you will want to break up long periods of sitting to stand, stretch, and walk.
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking and secondhand smoke are horrible for your heart, but the longer you quit, the more your body starts to reverse damaged caused by smoking. Just 20 minutes after your last cigarette you'll see a lower heart rated and reduced blood pressure. Even after 1 year of quitting, your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease decreases. Quitting isn't easy, but there are many support services available to help you.
8. Manage Stress
Stress affects different people in different ways, but many of these ways are detrimental to your heart health. For some people, it causes higher blood pressure; for others, emotional eating (excessive eating to relieve stress). Many people smoke or drink alcohol. Stress also causes the body to release adrenaline as part of the natural "fight or flight" response, which increases heart rate, which can cause damage to your heart over time.
There are many potential ways to manage stress: exercise, mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation, and therapy among them. Consult a medical or mental health professional to discuss the stress management techniques that are right for you.
Please consult with your doctor or other qualified health care professional before taking any medication, supplement, or beginning any health regimen.