The heart is one of the most complex organs in the body. It beats about 2.5 billion times in a lifetime, pumping millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body.
A healthy heart is essential for good health and longevity. The key is understanding the connection between diet and heart health.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet is one of the most important ways to maintain a healthy body and improve your overall health. When you eat the right foods, you can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and other health problems.
A healthy diet consists of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and lean meats and fish. It’s also important to include low-fat dairy products and limit saturated fats, salt and added sugars.
Fill about a quarter of your plate with protein foods, such as poultry, fish and egg whites. This helps keep your blood pressure under control and your heart pumping efficiently.
If you want to cut back on your saturated fat intake, try replacing some of your red meat with plant-based sources, like legumes, nuts and seeds. These will help reduce your cholesterol and increase your good HDL cholesterol.
Another way to reduce your saturated fat is by choosing oils that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can be found in avocados, nuts, olive oil and canola or soybean oil.
You can also decrease your salt intake by avoiding packaged and processed food, and choosing the lowest-sodium products available. You can also replace salt at the table with herbs and spices, or a salt-free seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash or McCormick’s.
The USDA recommends that people eat five groups of foods, each of which should be consumed in balanced amounts to avoid becoming deficient in certain nutrients. Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts are all good examples of the five major food groups and should form a majority of your daily diet.
2. Exercise Regularly
Exercising regularly is vital for good heart health, and it can have a positive effect on all aspects of your life. It helps strengthen your heart, lowers blood pressure, increases your body’s ability to manage levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood, and can even help you maintain a healthy weight.
Exercise also reduces C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Combined with a balanced diet and not smoking, these simple steps can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
It takes time to build a routine of regular exercise, but the more you do it, the better off you will be. The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, along with muscle-strengthening exercise two days a week.
A few minutes of brisk walking, jogging or swimming are great ways to start. You can work up to more intensive forms of physical activity, such as running marathons or participating in a sport that requires strength training like martial arts or dancing.
Besides boosting your energy levels, aerobic exercise improves your heart and lung health. It helps to keep your blood vessels elastic, meaning they’re flexible and able to flow easily. This means they don’t harden and narrow as they do when you’re sedentary, causing your blood pressure to rise.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness program, especially if you have a medical condition that limits your mobility or if you are overweight. It can take up to 2 weeks for your body to adjust to a new routine, so it’s important to stick with it and enjoy the benefits of regular exercise.
3. Avoid Smoking
Quitting smoking reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and many other health problems. It is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Smoking damages the arteries that carry blood to your heart and other organs, making them more likely to get clogged up with plaque. This is called atherosclerosis, and it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
The chemicals in cigarettes also damage the walls of your arteries, and cholesterol collects in those damaged areas. This changes the way your arteries work, and can make them stiffer or thicker.
As a result, blood can’t easily flow through your arteries and your heart has to work harder to pump it. It can also form blood clots, which can break off and travel to your brain or other parts of your body, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Getting rid of smoking is also good for your family’s health, since you’ll be less likely to pass on the disease to them or other people in your family. And when you quit, your own risk of heart disease starts to drop almost immediately and keeps declining over time.
When you stop smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure will start to lower in just 20 minutes. Within a day, your blood’s carbon monoxide level will fall back to normal and you’ll feel much healthier than when you were a smoker.
Your odds of having a heart attack or stroke will drop by half after you’ve quit for a year and even more after 5 years. And your risks of other diseases like lung cancer will also drop. This is why we encourage you to take the first step and give up cigarette smoking today.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep isn’t something you often think about when planning your day, but it plays a major role in your health. The body’s natural sleep-wake cycle regulates many functions, including blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It also helps reduce stress. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more cortisol, a hormone that has a variety of negative effects on your heart health.
A lack of sleep can also increase your risk for other conditions, including obesity and diabetes. In addition, it’s linked to increased heart disease risk factors like hypertension and high cholesterol.
It’s important to get a good night’s rest because it allows your body to regenerate. It also gives you time to relax, which can help you feel more refreshed.
New research has found that a healthy sleep schedule can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers analyzed data from 2,000 middle-aged and older people over four years.
They tracked their Simple 7 scores–a set of seven variables that include diet, exercise, weight, and smoking–and looked at cardiovascular events. After a decade, they determined that a low score on the AHA’s “Simple 7” was associated with poorer cardiovascular health, while a higher score predicted cardiovascular disease more accurately.
The results showed that if all participants had an optimal sleep score, a one-point increase could lower their risk of cardiovascular disease by 72 percent. Similarly, those with a higher score were also more likely to prevent heart attacks and strokes, according to the study’s authors.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends a total of 7-8 hours of sleep for adults every night. Getting less than six hours of sleep a night is linked to an increased risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
5. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Keeping a healthy weight is an important aspect of heart health. Losing excess weight can improve cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which can decrease the risk of developing heart disease.
Ideally, you should have a healthy body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. This is determined by your height and weight, and is a good place to start when trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight.
The American Heart Association recommends that you maintain a healthy BMI by eating a balanced diet that includes lean protein, complex carbohydrates and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Keeping a food diary can also help you keep track of the number of calories you consume each day.
You should also eat less saturated fat and trans fat, which can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Instead, try to include heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
A healthy weight can vary depending on where your body stores fat, how much muscle you have and your age. A doctor can help you figure out what your ideal weight is and whether losing a few pounds can make a difference to your health.
Having extra pounds puts you at increased risk for heart disease even if you don’t have other signs of health problems. That’s why it’s never too early to start taking your heart health seriously, Johns Hopkins cardiologist Chiadi Ndumele says.