It’s a tragic fact but heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world. In fact, in 2016 alone, nearly 10 million people worldwide died from coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries due to a build-up of plaque. Simply put, when your arteries become clogged, blood, and therefore oxygen, cannot reach your heart.
But there’s good news! Your heart health is almost completely within your control.
Yes, there are certain risk factors that can’t be changed, such as age and family history. But simply by adjusting your habits to create a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can drastically lower your risk of heart disease and other devastating chronic conditions.
That’s because positive lifestyle changes have a domino effect! Everything you do to care for your heart will improve your overall health as well.
Here are 6 heart-healthy lifestyle choices to start making today.
1. Remove Unnecessary Risks
The first, and potentially most difficult, step to take is to remove unnecessary health risks from your life. This means quitting tobacco use and possibly scaling back your alcohol consumption.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two, but any more than that on a regular basis and you increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.
As for tobacco use, there is no healthy amount. Smoking not only causes 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States but damages every organ in your body, including your heart and blood vessels.
2. Get More Physical Activity
One of the best ways to avoid heart failure and other diseases is to get more physical activity in your daily routine. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. This is only 30 minutes a day, five days a week!
Stick with activities you genuinely look forward to doing. If you hate the gym, don’t try to force yourself to go. By making physical activity a pleasure rather than a chore, you’re much more likely to keep up with your fitness journey.
Something as simple as going for a bike ride in the evening or a walk around the neighborhood after work can be enough to get you on the right track with your heart health.
Remember that 150 minutes is a minimum. When you feel comfortable, you should work up to 30 minutes of activity or more every day of the week.
3. Eat Healthier
If you eat a typical Western diet, chances are you’re eating an abundance of foods that should be limited or avoided altogether if you’re seeking a heart-healthy lifestyle. Our diets are often loaded with sugars, sodium, and other additives that can lead to heart disease.
Treat yourself to a cookie or a bowl of ice cream every now and then, but do your best to ensure that the bulk of your diet is made up of whole, nutrient-dense foods. This means plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins and healthy fats and carbohydrates.
When in doubt, shop the perimeter of the store for most of your groceries. And when in the aisles, choose the options with the least ingredients. For example, if you’re buying frozen strawberries, there should only be one ingredient: strawberries.
4. Prioritize Mental Health
Anxiety and depression are all too common, but even if you aren’t suffering from mental illness, you need to make an effort to prioritize your mental health.
Many of us view stress as an unavoidable part of life. And while that’s true to an extent, stress can do a number on both our mental and physical health.
Stress has a negative effect on every facet of health, from your digestion to your immune system to your heart health, which is why it’s so important to manage it.
Take time each day for activities such as yoga, meditation, writing in a gratitude journal, or talking to a friend. Whatever makes you feel calm and centered is what you should do.
5. Improve Your Sleep Habits
If you wake up every morning feeling as if you haven’t slept at all, you’re not alone. About a third of adults don’t get enough quality sleep. But if you’re in this percentage, it’s time to make a change.
So many of us put sleeping at the bottom of our priority list, classifying it as a waste of time and spending as much of our day awake as possible. This might feel like a productive move as you’re doing it but is actually a huge mistake.
In reality, sleeping is one of the most productive things we can do for our health. Getting 7 to 9 hours of high-quality sleep is absolutely essential to lowering the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack.
To improve the quality of your sleep, try limiting your caffeine consumption to the morning hours and putting your electronics away an hour or two before bed. Create a relaxing bedtime routine and include activities such as taking a bath, reading, or practicing meditation.
6. Make Regular Visits to Your Doctor
No one likes going to the doctor, but the key to preventing and treating heart failure symptoms is to catch them early. Once a year, visit your doctor to discuss your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Your doctor will be able to give you helpful advice for achieving or maintaining a healthy level of all three and tell you if you’re beginning to reach the danger zone with any of them.
Without regular testing, you likely won’t know if you have a heart-damaging condition such a high blood pressure or high cholesterol until it’s too late. Going to the doctor might be uncomfortable, but your health is too precious to risk.
Start Your Journey Toward a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Today
It’s never too late to start making your health a priority. By using these strategies to living a heart-healthy lifestyle, you’ll be amazed by how much better you feel in your day to day life.
Best of all, you’ll improve your overall wellness and add healthy years to your life. So what are you waiting for? Start taking steps toward health today.
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