5 ways to boost your Heart Health

taking blood pressureYour heart is a small organ, about the size of your fist, but it’s also a powerful one. It pumps an impressive quantity of blood each day, sending about 2,000 gallons of blood coursing through your blood vessels over a 24-hour period.

Unfortunately, heart disease is also the number one cause of death in Western countries. That’s why keeping this small “pump” pumping is vital for health and longevity. The good news? The lifestyle you lead has a direct impact on heart health.

Are you leading a heart-healthy lifestyle? If not, here are five simple things you can do to boost the health of your heart.

Get Moving

Why is regular physical activity so important? Aerobic exercise helps your heart pump more efficiently so it can deliver more oxygen-rich blood to cells with each heartbeat. That’s why your heart rate slows down when you’re aerobically fit. It also lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and boosts levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind that lowers your risk for heart disease.

How much exercise do you need? The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes at least five days a week. If you can’t fit it in, break it down into shorter sessions. You can get benefits by doing as little as 10 minutes of moderately intense exercise three times a day. A brisk walk works, but more intense exercise like running or fast bike riding has the edge when it comes to improving the health of your heart. Gradually work up to greater intensity levels, and always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Change Your Diet

Fat gets a bad rap when it comes to heart health, but not all fats are bad for your heart. In fact, some fats like monounsaturated fats in nuts and olive oil and omega-3 fats in fatty fish like salmon improve your lipid levels and may lower your risk for heart disease. Fats to avoid are trans-fat in some processed and packaged foods, in margarine and in some restaurant offerings. Go light on saturated fat from animal products like red meat and butter. Replace butter with olive oil and enjoy more fatty fish like salmon as a substitute for beef.

Another dietary change that may lower your risk for heart disease is to enjoy a diet rich in fiber from sources like fruits and vegetables – and limit sodium. Sodium contributes to high blood pressure and causes changes in the walls of your blood vessels that increase your risk for heart disease. Lighten up on the processed and packaged foods, too. They’re usually high in sodium and low in fiber.

Lose Those Extra Pounds

Carrying around a few too many? Excess weight, especially fat around your waist and belly is a risk factor for heart disease. Even if your weight and BMI are normal, you’re at greater risk for heart disease if your waist measures more than 35 inches (if you’re female) and 40 inches for men. If you don’t like what the tape measure is telling you, it’s time to take a closer look at your diet. Too many processed foods and soft drinks contribute to belly and waistline fat as does an inactive lifestyle. Make sure you’re getting at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise a day.

Change Those Bad Habits

You’re probably aware that smoking increases your risk for heart disease, so kick the habit if you’re still lighting up. Here’s something you may not be aware of – too many “late nighters” can do it too. Recent research shows that skimping on sleep, getting less than 7 hours a night, is a risk factor for heart disease. When you’re sleep deprived, it boosts levels of stress hormones that wreak havoc on your blood pressure. Cut back on late night work sessions and make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep to keep your heart healthy.

Take Control of Stress

Stress is another risk factor for heart disease. No one knows exactly how stress increases the risk for heart disease, but it has an impact on hormones like adrenalin and cortisol that increase blood pressure and put added stress on your heart. That’s why it’s good to have an outlet for stress – meditation, yoga, Tai chi or some other relaxing activity that helps you release pent-up stress.

The Bottom Line?

Making these changes can all boost the health of your heart, but don’t forget to see your doctor regularly to check your blood pressure and lipid levels – and let your doctor know if you have family members who have had heart disease.

 

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