For Your Heart’s Sake

Healthy choices for a healthy heart.

Heart disease may be a leading cause of death, but it’s also preventable. While there are many types of heart disease, the most common cause is atherosclerosis. When fatty deposits build up on the walls of arteries, blood vessels harden and narrow. Blood and oxygen flow is restricted to the body and heart, putting you at serious risk for heart attack or stroke.

Scary as that may sound, heart disease isn’t an inevitable part of aging for most people. The everyday choices you make have a huge impact on the health of your heart.

Take steps today to prevent or delay heart disease.

Start with Your Fork

Keep your ticker ticking strong by eating the right foods and managing a healthy weight. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and nuts are a recipe for a healthy circulatory system.

Limit the amount of red meat, sugar, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in your diet, as these foods raise blood pressure, increase cholesterol, and lead to weight gain.

Eat the following foods for the health of your heart: salmon, tuna, oatmeal, almonds, walnuts, beans, tofu, blueberries, cantaloupe, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, and tea. Red wine is also beneficial to your heart—when drank in moderation. Women should limit alcoholic drinks to one a day and men to two drinks a day.

Now Move

Want a strong heart? Exercise. The heart is a muscle, and like other muscles it becomes stronger with exercise. Cut your risk of heart disease in half by leading an active lifestyle. Besides strengthening the heart, exercise burns calories, lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol, and boosts your good cholesterol.

Make it your goal to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week—every day if possible. Even if it’s been years since you set foot in a gym, it’s never too late to improve the health of your heart. Start slow and work your way up to 30 minutes a day as you get stronger. For those too busy to fit in half an hour, try 10 minutes three times a day. A little exercise is better than none.

Put out the Cigarettes

Smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease. The dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes, pipes, and cigars harm every part of the body, including the heart, blood vessels, and blood cells. Damage to arteries caused by tobacco smoke increases your risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and even death.

Combine the risk factors of smoking with obesity, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol and you have a dangerous combination. And you don’t have to be a chain smoker to be at risk. Occasional smoking or breathing secondhand smoke put you at risk for heart problems as well. Quit now to begin to reverse the damage in your body and protect your heart for the future!

Manage Stress

When stress becomes chronic or is left unmanaged, it can cause physical problems including high blood pressure, chest pains, or heart disease. Research is undecided whether stress is the risk factor or whether stress increases other risk factors. For example, many people overeat, smoke, or avoid exercise when they’re stressed. Which causes which? Researchers are still busy trying to determine that.

Learn healthy methods of managing stress. Talking with a close friend, getting regular exercise, laughing, slowing down, and getting enough sleep are all ways to control stress before it controls you.