Taking care of your heart is perhaps the most important thing you can do in order to live a longer, healthier life. If you have already been diagnosed with hypertension or high cholesterol—two significant risk factors for heart disease and stroke—it’s even more important to pay attention to your heart’s well-being. By taking a few positive steps and sticking to them, you can keep your heart pumping strong. Here are a few tips as recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) to help keep your heart healthy.
Lose weight. If you are overweight or simply carrying a few extra pounds, losing unhealthy weight is key to your overall heart health. The basic formula for weight loss is to reduce total calories eaten and increase total calories burned on a daily basis. In order to do this, first learn how many calories you should consume per day based on your age, physical activity level and gender. From there, you can begin to make other lifestyle changes to achieve a healthy weight.
Eat healthy. It’s not just about reducing calories—it’s about eating right, too. Consuming healthier foods is good for your heart as well as your overall health. Start by learning the AHA nutrition guidelines and making a plan. The AHA recommends a diet rich in grains, fruits and vegetables that limits the intake of fats, oils and cholesterol.
Get active. In conjunction with a better diet, physical activity is very important. Getting your heart rate up is good for you. If you don’t have much time, don’t sweat it—even taking a well-paced 30 minute walk a few times a week will get you on the road to keeping your heart in good shape. Swimming, biking and other aerobic activities as well as strength training are all good forms of healthy physical exercise. Again, the AHA has established physical activity guidelines to help you determine the level of physical activity that’s appropriate for you.
Manage blood pressure and reduce blood sugar. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart and cardiovascular disease, and one in three adults has high blood pressure. Blood sugar (glucose) is crucial fuel for our bodies, but too much or too little inhibits the production of insulin, a naturally produced hormone our bodies need to stay healthy. A lack of insulin can lead to diabetes, which in turn can lead to heart damage. Managing and controlling your blood pressure and blood sugar levels are two more keys to keeping your heart as healthy as possible.
Quit smoking. Everyone knows (or should know) how significantly cigarette smoking adversely affects your health. In addition to being a direct link to lung and other cancers, smoking only accelerates factors that lead directly to a range of cardiovascular diseases. It can also contribute to high blood pressure and increases in cholesterol levels, and is a contributing factor in strokes. If you do smoke, one of the very best things you can do to improve the health of your heart, your overall well-being and the health of those around you is to quit.
Reduce cholesterol. While your body needs cholesterol to function, too much LDL—the bad type of cholesterol—can lead to heart disease. It’s important to have your cholesterol level checked by your physician. If you do have elevated cholesterol levels, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a proper diet, staying physically active, managing your blood pressure and sugar levels and not smoking will all have a positive effect on your heart health.