Your heart is one of the most central organs in your body. It is therefore a matter of importance to keep it running as it should in order to prevent severe health problems. There are several lifestyle decisions that impact cardiovascular health which anyone can implement into their routines. Here are 9 of the best ways to make your heart healthier:
1) Swap Out “Bad” Fats
It is a fact that the human body needs some fat to function properly, but some fats are better than others. Saturated and trans fats can have dangerous effects, such as clogging arteries important for cardiovascular health. Unsaturated fats, however, provide for that same nutritional need while limiting these negative consequences. Generally, saturated fats are solid at room temperature due to the way their molecules pack tightly together, while unsaturated fats are liquid oils. Healthy fats can be obtained through eating fish, nuts, and seeds, as well as cooking with vegetable and nut oils. It is also important to remember that all fats, regardless of type, have the same number of calories per unit (meaning they provide the same amount of energy), and a high level of consumption can contribute to weight gain, which can have its own effects on the body.
2) Avoid Smoking and Inhaling Secondhand Smoke
The fact that smoking causes harm is no surprise these days. Smoking can cause high blood pressure and lowered good cholesterol, causing the arteries to stretch and allowing bad cholesterol to build up, as well as raising the risk of blood clots. The nicotine which causes addiction can also lead to peripheral artery disease. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help you quit smoking. Overall, your cardiovascular system will thank you for putting down those smokes. Unfortunately, simply not smoking yourself isn’t entirely enough. Breathing in secondhand smoke can lead to the same ailments. It is therefore important to avoid breathing in smoke altogether, whenever possible.
3) Exercise Regularly
Exercising has benefits for the entire body, including maintenance of heart health. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, every week. While setting 30-minute exercise sessions most days is ideal, breaking the time up into smaller increments will still be beneficial. The best kind of exercise for heart health is aerobic—exercise which involves the heart pumping oxygenated blood around the body. These cardio exercises include walking, running, and biking. Generally, aerobic exercises focus more on endurance than short-term strength. By exercising regularly, the heart gets stronger, and therefore doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood in routine situations, resulting in a lower risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.
4) Reduce Your Stress
When life gets busy, it can seem like stress is inevitable. But even mental stress can lead to physical problems, including those related to the heart. Stress can raise blood pressure and contribute to high cholesterol. It can also potentially lead to unhealthy behavioral vices such as excessive drinking, overeating, and smoking. In order to prevent these circumstances as much as possible, it is important to participate in stress-alleviating activities. These can include physical activity and practicing breathing exercises, but are also customizable to your individual lifestyle and interests. Additionally, you should not hesitate to seek more professional help with reducing stress if you have trouble managing it on your own—your heart and overall health will be grateful for it.
5) Ditch the Sedentary Lifestyle
As nice as it may be to sit down and relax in front of the TV after a long day of work, it can be dangerous to your health to spend too much time relatively motionless. Spending large quantities of time sedentary has been shown to be associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease associated death than spending more time active. Some sedentary time is unavoidable, with sitting in vehicles and while at work or class, but free time should be spent moving around. Regular exercise in general can help with this, as it has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and associated mortality even in people who do spend a large amount of time sitting still. So even if you aren’t in constant motion, it can help to get up and stroll around every so often.
6) Monitor Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart related problems, among other health issues. On an anatomical level, the high pressure of the blood pumping through arteries can stretch their walls beyond a healthy limit, resulting in tissue damage. In terms of health problems, this can lead to heart disease, heart failure, hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, strokes, etc. In order to prevent this maleficent array of issues, you should maintain a healthy diet with limited sodium, exercise regularly, manage stress, and avoid smoke. If the problem is severe enough, a doctor may prescribe medication to help manage your blood pressure. By making these modifications in your lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of many severe cardiovascular distresses.
7) Pay Attention to Dental Hygiene
Often when things are wrong in the body, more than just a single aspect is affected. Interestingly, dental health may be an indicator of risk factors which can impact the cardiovascular system. Gum disease, or periodontitis, and heart disease have risk factors like age, diabetes, and smoking in common. It has not been shown that there is a causal relationship between gum disease and heart disease, but the correlation of symptoms makes it worthwhile to consider getting heart health checkups if you develop periodontitis and have other high-risk factors. That being said, while treating gum disease may not lessen the risk of heart attack or stroke, it may alert you and your doctors to underlying causes which may need to be addressed.
8) Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is a crucial cycle during which the body relaxes and is able to recharge. Without regular long periods of sleep, the body cannot have extended periods of low heart rate and blood pressure, leading to higher blood pressure in general, which can have negative cardiovascular impacts. In older adults, problems like sleep apnea have been linked to a greater risk of congestive heart failure. In adolescents, a lack of sleep can contribute to high cholesterol, high body mass index, larger waistline, and higher blood pressure. If these problems arise at a young age, they may continue to worsen over time. As such, it is beneficial, both in the short and long term, to regularly get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
9) Maintain a Healthy Weight
Many of the ways to keep your heart healthy are interconnected, and one of the primary ways which is related to many others is weight management. Weight gain beyond a normal level is correlated with high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. One of the measures of determining a healthy weight is BMI, or body mass index. BMI relates weight to height to give an estimate of how healthy a person’s weight is for them. The National Institute of Health suggests that a normal BMI is between 18.6 and 24.9. That being said, since BMI does not take all factors into consideration, such as muscle vs. fat weight, it cannot be viewed as the supreme secret to determining health. If you have questions about whether your weight is healthy for you, it is best to see a doctor. However, BMI can act as a general guideline for assessing whether your weight may be negatively affecting your body.