In honor of February – American Heart Month – this article takes a dive into some of the best things we can do for heart health and to prevent heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States (1).
The good news is that about 80% of all heart disease cases can be prevented by tuning into dietary and lifestyle habits such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress, for example.
Continue reading for a closer look at the main areas you should focus on for optimal heart health.
1. Get regular health screenings
Studies show that when people take preventative measures to check in with their health, they have less heart attacks and strokes.
It’s important to get regular check-ups at your doctor to screen for things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and elevated blood sugars, as these are modifiable risk factors for developing heart disease (2).
Having high blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage the heart over time. However, if you aren’t getting checked regularly you may not even know you have these warning signs, and therefore you wouldn’t know that you should take any action.
Here are some of the most important measures to be checking regularly to keep your heart health in check:
Blood pressure – It’s recommended that you get your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. Those with high blood pressure should take actions such as reducing the amount of sodium in your diet, incorporating more exercise, and working to manage stress to help bring blood pressure down to healthy levels.
Cholesterol – Ensuring a healthy cholesterol panel is also important for heart health. To manage cholesterol levels, it’s important to eat enough fiber, incorporate regular exercise, and reduce your intake of saturated fats and added sugars.
- Type 2 diabetes screening – Because diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, getting regular screenings for blood sugar and type 2 diabetes is important. If you have risk factors for diabetes such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes, it’s even more pertinent to get regular screenings.
For those who have elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, it may be recommended to take medications. Along with positive lifestyle changes to improve heart health.
2. Eat a heart-healthy diet
A heart-healthy diet consists of one rich in plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils like olive oil and avocado oil.
The diets that have been most frequently studied for heart health include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH Diet, both of which emphasize a diet rich in these plant foods listed above. Plus, both of these diets also limit the intake of processed meats, processed foods, artificial additives, and added sugars (3).
A diet that focuses mainly on plants is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that all help to lower heart disease risk by reducing blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and to maintain a healthy weight.
Overall, good nutrition plays a huge role in the prevention of heart disease. Even if you have a family history of heart disease, a healthy diet can dramatically help to reduce your risk.
In addition to plenty of vegetables and whole grains, including omega-3 fatty acids that are found in foods such as olive oil, salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, avocados, and leafy green vegetables, has a direct impact on cholesterol. Not only do omega-3 fatty acids help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, but they also help to increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
If you’re too busy to eat a diet that is rich in a wide array of fruits and vegetables, consider taking a green superfood powder like Naked Greens.
Our green superfood powder blend contains six different organic vegetables and grasses along with organic prebiotics, probiotics, and adaptogens to promote detox, stress reduction, and support heart health.
3. Exercise at least 30-60 minutes every day
Besides staying on top of your nutrition, incorporating regular exercise is key to overall health – and in particular, heart health.
According to the World Health Organization, adults aged 18-64 should be getting at least 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity each week (4).
Exercise not only strengthens the heart muscle, but it helps keep a healthy weight, which is perhaps one of the most important goals of exercise. Keeping a healthy weight tends to have a positive effect on other risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
What you choose to do when you exercise doesn’t exactly matter. The key is to stay active whether you choose to dance, run, lift weights, or join a sports team.
Remember that the heart is a muscle that needs exercise to maintain optimal function, so get moving!
If you need some extra motivation to help you get started, check out these 20 research-backed motivation tips for life, work and fitness.
3. Get good quality sleep
We have heard time and time again that sleep is important for our overall health.
But, did you know that getting enough sleep, and good quality sleep is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease?
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research, it’s recommended that adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night. In fact, getting less than this is associated with an increased risk for heart disease risk factors including higher stress levels and increased inflammation.
So, it’s important to prioritize the quality and length of your slumber time to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease (5).
But, how exactly do we do this? Although there are many strategies to improve sleep, some include going to sleep and waking up at consistent times each day, avoiding blue light from technology before bed, and avoiding drinking caffeine later in the day.
5. Aim to manage stress
Last but not least, managing stress is key to overall health. Although stress affects everyone differently, there is a link between high stress levels and heart disease.
Stress has been linked to inflammation, increased blood pressure, and weight gain, which are all risk factors for heart disease.
Unfortunately, stress is unavoidable. However, we can work to improve our reaction to it. If we can better manage our stress, our body responds more positively to it, and therefore keeps our inflammation and overall health in check.
There are many habits that can help reduce stress. For one, engaging in regular physical activity can help lower stress through the release of endorphins.
What’s more, incorporating relaxation or breathing exercises such as meditation or yoga can significantly reduce stress levels.
It’s also important for people to take time for themselves and engage in activities that bring joy such as reading, writing, spending time outdoors, and spending time with loved ones, for example. It’s important to incorporate stress-reduction techniques that work for you, as everyone’s ways to manage stress will be different.
There are many things we can be doing to improve our overall health, and heart health, in particular.
In addition to going to the doctor regularly for health screenings, it’s important to eat a diet rich in plant foods, incorporate regular exercise, prioritize sleep, and manage stress levels.