7 Things Your Heart Will Thank You for Doing, Doctors Say
Cardiologists share their best heart-health tips.
Heart disease is currently the leading cause of mortality in America, accounting for one in every five deaths in the nation. But suffering heart complications is far from a foregone conclusion: There are many things you can do to lower your heart disease risk.
"The great news is that there are a number of ways for individuals to improve their heart health," says Rigved Tadwalkar, MD, a board-certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. "I often tell my patients that the foundations for excellent heart health involve habits and activities that do not cost a lot of money or take a lot of time," he tells Best Life, adding that "almost anyone can improve their heart health regardless of their means or life situation."
Wondering where to begin? Try these seven simple things your heart will thank you for doing, according to heart specialists.
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Follow a healthy diet, such as the DASH diet.
One of the most important things you can do for your heart is to follow a healthy diet, cardiologists say. In fact, there's one diet in particular that seems to come with major heart health and body-wide benefits: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, more commonly known as the DASH diet.
"This is a diet high in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts and low in sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats," explains Jennifer Wong, MD, a cardiologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. "The diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber, but low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol," she adds.
Another important component of the DASH diet is that it limits your salt intake to 2.3 grams of sodium per day, an amount which has been shown to reduce rates of hypertension, Wong notes.
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Limit your alcohol intake.
Popular wisdom has long suggested that a glass of red wine per day could be protective of one's heart health. However, more recent research and a powerful statement from the World Health Organization now state that no amount of alcohol is considered healthy or safe.
And there's no debate about what excessive drinking does to your heart. "Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is linked to a number of poor health outcomes, including heart conditions," say experts from Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, or stroke" as well as "cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle." That's why Wong and so many other heart experts recommend limiting your alcohol intake for better heart health.
Monitor your blood pressure at home.
When it comes to your blood pressure, knowing your numbers is key. For people at high risk of heart problems, this means you should be self-monitoring with a blood pressure cuff at home.
"You should call your doctor if the blood pressure is greater than 180/120 mmHg on repeated measurements while at rest," says Wong. She adds that you should "call 911 if these blood pressure readings are associated with symptoms of end organ damage such as headache, vision changes, weakness, numbness, chest pain, or shortness of breath."
Get regular exercise.
Another thing your heart will thank you for is exercising regularly. Tadwalkar says that your routine "need not be fancy, but should consist of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, which breaks down to roughly 30 minutes per day, five days per week."
For good overall health, you should aim to diversify your workout to include strength training as well as exercises that improve your balance, agility, and flexibility. However, for your heart health in particular, it's important that you get your blood pumping with aerobic exercises such as running, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, sports, or jumping rope.
Looking for a way to improve your heart health overnight? If you smoke, the answer is simple: quit.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), your heart rate will drop twenty minutes after your last cigarette. "Just 12 hours after quitting smoking, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal, allowing more oxygen to vital organs like your heart. Within four years of quitting, your risk of stroke drops to that of lifetime nonsmokers," their experts write.
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Get more sleep.
Getting adequate sleep—seven to nine hours per night—is also crucial to your heart health, Tadwalkar says. Yet as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, one in three Americans falls short of that target, sleeping less than seven hours per night.
Poor sleep has been linked to higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes. In fact, "Adults who sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including heart attack, asthma, and depression," says the CDC. "Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke," their experts add.
See your doctor to manage any underlying conditions.
Finally, your heart will thank you for seeing your doctor regularly and treating any underlying conditions that can lead to heart complications, says Tadwalkar. As the CDC notes, roughly "half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking."
Speak with your doctor to learn more about how to manage your heart risk factors with medication or lifestyle interventions.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.