Fact-Checked By: Dr. Noor Ali, MD, MPH, CPH
Paying attention to your heart health is of the utmost importance when it comes to prioritizing overall wellness. Not to sound too morbid, but according to the CDC, one in every four U.S. deaths is caused by heart disease each year. This is why there’s no better time than now to start taking your heart health into your own hands. Making heart-healthy decisions is probably much easier than you would think. Here are a few straightforward ways you can stay on top of your heart health.
1. Get Your Heart Pumping With Exercise
Exercise can and should be enjoyable! You should be shooting for at least thirty minutes of activity, five days a week. Take a thirty-minute walk down a local outdoor trail or walk around the mall if you’re not an outdoorsy kind of person.
If you’re interested in fitness, try a beginner Zumba class at a gym or sign up for a kickboxing class if you’re feeling bolder. Just get moving and elevate your heart rate. Consider walking or biking to places you would normally take a short drive to.
There are a few ways exercise helps your heart. When you exercise, your heart muscle gets better at pulling oxygen out of your blood, which means your heart doesn’t have to pump as much to get the oxygen it needs. Exercise also reduces stress hormones, which have been linked to heart disease.
Finally, exercise can lower your blood pressure, reducing the risk of hardening and thickening in your arteries, which can lead to premature heart disease
2. Make Heart-Healthy Food Choices
Choosing heart-healthy food options doesn’t mean that you have to stop eating all of your favorite foods. It just means you should be paying closer attention to sodium content and portion size.
Some foods are better than others when it comes to influencing your blood pressure, triglyceride levels, cholesterol levels, and inflammation—all of which have been linked to heart disease. Here’s what to keep in mind with sodium and a list of foods you should try incorporating into your daily routine.
What’s The Deal With Sodium?
If a doctor is treating a patient with heart disease, the patient is typically put on a diet that restricts their sodium intake to 2,000 mg of salt per day. That’s because sodium intake is linked to water retention and high blood pressure, which can eventually result in heart failure. That might sound like a lot of sodium, but sodium is in almost everything you eat, so it can be more challenging than you think to limit how much you consume.
If you don’t have heart disease, make sure you’re not exceeding your daily percentage by checking food labels and consider choosing low sodium options, like low sodium crackers.
What Foods Should You Focus On?
There are great-tasting, heart-healthy foods! Heart-healthy foods are low in sodium and rich in nutrients that promote a properly functioning heart. Here are a few foods to add to your daily and weekly repertoire:
- Collard greens
- Whole Wheat foods
- Brown rice
- Olive oil
- Dark Chocolate
With any number of these ingredients, you can make pretty incredible meals and even desserts! Take some time to explore heart-healthy recipes that you’ll love.
3. Know The Signs And Risk Factors Of Heart Disease
Staying on top of your heart health means knowing when something might be wrong and decreasing your number of risk factors. There are some risk factors you simply don't have any control over, such as having a family history of heart disease and aging. However, there are plenty that you can control. You’re at a higher risk if you...
- Have high blood pressure
- Have an unhealthy cholesterol level
- Are diagnosed with diabetes
- Are considered obese
- Eat foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
- Are physically inactive
- Are drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (it’s recommended that women don’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day to stay on top of heart health)
Unhealthy habits aren’t easy to change, but it will be worth the extra effort to mitigate some of the risk factors that you can control.
4. Talk To Your Doctor
Keeping your doctor in the loop about your heart health can help you reduce your risk of heart disease or help you catch heart disease early, so it can be treated. If you experience shortness of breath, fatigue, an irregular heartbeat, or swelling in any area of your body, it may be an indication of heart failure.
If you have a family history of heart disease, it’s important that your doctor is aware. Your doctor will be able to help you come up with a heart disease prevention plan that works best for you.