Everyday Care

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Heart Health Today

With a few easy steps, you can jumpstart a literal change of heart today.

There’s no muscle more important than your heart. Every day, it goes to work pumping blood and nutrients throughout your body, and keeping it in tip-top shape helps stave off the cardiovascular diseases that kill 1 in 4 Americans, according to the CDC.

Not sure if your heart is bringing its A game? Not to worry. Like any muscle, it can be trained and strengthened. With a variety of easily adoptable steps, you can help your heart every day. Check out our favorite five ways to train your heart:

1. Dine with DASH

Eating habits play a huge role in overall heart health, notes the CDC. Certain ingredients and food preparations can make it tougher for your heart to pump without exerting itself, while other ingredients actually give your heart a boost. If you’re not sure which foods fall into either category, the DASH Diet is a great place to start. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it’s less of a diet and more of a flexible set of guidelines that will help you make heart-healthy eating choices.  On the DASH Diet, you’ll want to consume more ingredients like:

  • Fresh fruits: Rich in antioxidants that can help fight off illness, fruit can also satisfy your sweet tooth without added sugars.
  • Legumes: Foods like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils are a good source of protein and fiber without the sodium, fat, and cholesterol that comes from packaged meats.
  • Potassium-rich foods: Found in beans, leafy greens, bananas, fish, yogurt, and avocados, potassium can help reduce the risk of heart disease, potentially by preventing your arteries from getting clogged and hardened, notes the NIH.

And you’ll want to limit your intake of:

  • Sodium bombs: High salt diets can lead to high blood pressure in many people which puts undue strain on the heart. To slash sodium, look to herbs, salt-free seasonings and spices to flavor food, cut back on beverages like carbonated water or diet sodas that may have added sodium, and aim to get fresh meats rather than processed or packaged varieties.
  • Foods with high saturated fat: A chief ingredient in products like butter, fatty cuts of meat, and tropical oils like coconut, they can raise your cholesterol.

2. Take care of yourself

When your entire body is working to fight off an illness, your heart has to push itself, too. Avoid the wear and tear on your entire system by taking the daily precautions that fight off illness:

  • Stay up to date on vaccines like your flu shot
  • Wash or sanitize your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face, and after touching germy items like doorknobs and keyboards
  • Never sneeze or cough into your bare hand
  • Disinfect the shared surfaces of your home or office daily
  • Lighten up on booze and cigarettes—excessive use of both can compromise the immune system, notes the NIH and CDC
  • Avoid sharing personal space with someone who has a contagious illness like the cold or flu
  • Head to your yearly physical, where your clinician can use your medical history and bloodwork to provide personalized tips that help you stay healthy

3. Smile for your dentist

Gum disease has long been linked to heart disease, acting as an early predictor to cardiovascular trouble. The science is still out on whether other factors are included in this link. But one thing is clear—keeping your teeth clean is an important component of your wellbeing. And when you’re committed to staying healthy overall, you’ll be more committed to the easy steps that will help make your heart healthier every day.

4. Go to bed

Tucking yourself into bed each night isn’t indulgent—it’s important. Consistently getting less than 7 hours a night is linked to several chronic conditions, including heart disease, says the CDC. Additionally, people with common sleep disorders like sleep apnea are at a higher risk for heart arrhythmias, plaque buildup, heart failure, and coronary artery disease, notes the American Heart Association. Getting better sleep is easier said than done, but there’s one easy way to improve your snooze: ditch your phone. The blue light from screens affects the natural circadian rhythm and stimulates the part of the brain that boosts alertness, says the Sleep Foundation. For at least 30 minutes before bedtime, avoid screens including your phone, a TV, video game consoles, a laptop, or even LED lights. The result? An at-ease brain that achieves more restful, heart-healthy sleep.

5. Stay (or get) active

Exercise is one of the key ways to train your heart to grow steadily stronger. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, including strengthening exercises at least twice per week. The movement has major benefits for your entire body, especially your heart—even some moderate exercise per week can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. If you don’t already have an exercise routine going, make a quick list of activities that interest you. Remember that you don’t have to start counting calories on the treadmill or slogging through a HIIT class you hate—movement like gardening, dancing, swimming, washing the car or windows, bowling, mowing the lawn, badminton, or jumping on the trampoline all count as moderate activity. Commit to working a few different activities into your weekly routine. The variety will help train different muscle groups, allow you to learn more about the movement you love, and potentially help you stick to a routine that strengthens your heart. Want to get more info on your heart health? Open the app and schedule a visit with your clinician today.

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