When it comes to heart health, what you do and what you don't do can truly make a difference. That's because lifestyle choices — like smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise — can be far more dangerous than hereditary factors.
Here's a step-by-step plan that will help you make smart choices and get your ticker in top form.
1. Know your numbers
When you're considering your heart health, it's important to have an understanding of your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar numbers. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what is a healthy level.
If any of your numbers are too high or too low, this can lead to health issues that may affect your heart. For example, high cholesterol can increase your risk for vascular disease. Getting more active, losing weight and making smart food choices can help get these numbers in a healthy range.
2. Pump your heart
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Aerobic activity is important because it helps improve your circulation, which can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Be sure to choose something that works for you and that you can stay consistent with. Many people also find it helpful to have an exercise partner or join a gym or sports club to help keep them accountable. Exercises for heart health could include walking, jogging, tennis, gardening or yoga.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
When making your grocery list of heart-healthy foods, follow this simple rule of thumb: opt for foods with healthful fats, fiber and good-for-you nutrients like flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. Nix the salty, sugary, saturated fat-laden or processed items.
Foods to incorporate into your heart-friendly diet can include:
- Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale and collard greens)
- Fruits (bananas, apples and oranges)
- Wholes grains (brown rice, oatmeal and whole grain bread)
- Lean meats and fish (salmon, tuna, chicken and turkey)
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans)
4. Learn from your relatives
Even though you have a lot of control over your heart health, a family history of heart disease can raise your risk significantly. So, along with talking to your doctor about heart screenings, talk about your family health history, too. If Mom, Dad or a sibling developed heart disease, you'll want to be extra vigilant about screenings and adopting heart-smart habits.
Asking the following questions can help you get a better sense of your family's heart health history:
- Does heart disease run in our family?
- Do you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
- Has anybody in our family had a heart attack?
5. Get your zzzs
Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 35% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep each night? Inadequate sleep has been linked to a greater likelihood of certain health problems, including coronary heart disease. It also causes you to release less serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in your brain. The result: You may seek out other, less healthful ways to feel good, like noshing on sugary foods or tipping too many martinis.
To improve your overall health, focus on getting enough sleep each night. The CDC suggests the following to improve your sleep health:
- Be consistent. Make a habit of going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning.
- Stay away from big meals, alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.
- Exercise during the day. Being physically active can help you fall asleep at night.
- Create a restful atmosphere. Make sure your room is conducive to falling asleep — dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature.
- Remove electronics from your bedroom.
Take our free heart health risk assessment to better understand your cardiovascular well-being and any action steps you should take to improve it.