8 Daily Habits That Keep Your Heart Young
Here's how to turn back the clock on your ticker, according to cardiologists.
If you want to improve your overall health by targeting just one thing, focusing on your heart health can offer maximal benefits. After all, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, accounting for one in every five deaths nationwide.
While everyone's heart disease risk increases with time, experts say certain habits can cause your heart to age prematurely. An online heart age calculator can help you determine whether your heart health is out of step with your chronological age, putting you at heightened risk of serious cardiovascular complications. If your heart is aging faster than you are, you can take charge by changing certain daily habits. Wondering where to begin? Read on to learn the eight top pieces of advice from cardiologists.
Keep a blood pressure log.
Seeing your doctor or cardiologist for regular checkups can help identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Treating these early on will help prevent heart attack and stroke, says Stephen Tang, MD, a board-certified cardiac electrophysiologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
But between appointments, it's a good idea to monitor your blood pressure at home using a blood pressure cuff.
"A good blood pressure record helps patients be more aware of their health and lets their physicians know when it may be necessary to adjust their medications. Regular monitoring also provides an opportunity for patients to intervene earlier with lifestyle modifications," agrees Cheng-Han Chen, MD, a board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California.
"Early diagnosis and intervention is the best way to prevent longer-term negative consequences," he adds.
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Limit or cut out alcohol.
Chen says that another way to prevent premature aging of the heart is to limit your alcohol intake—or cut it out entirely.
"For a long time, the consensus was that it might be 'safe' to drink in moderation. The current recommendations from the American Heart Association are to limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women," he tells Best Life.
"However, more recent data suggest that drinking any amount will increase someone's risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack or stroke," the cardiologist continues. "Because of this, I expect that our medical recommendations regarding alcohol consumption are going to change in the future. I would counsel patients that no amount of alcohol intake can be considered 'heart-healthy.'"
Tang says that binge drinking is especially dangerous for heart health: "Excessive alcohol has been implicated with higher blood pressure, heart failure, and heart arrhythmias."
Choose a heart-healthy diet.
How you eat can also have a tremendous impact on your heart health. Tang recommends sticking to the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to lower cardiovascular risk.
"Choose a vegetable-forward diet combined with fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins such as chicken or fish. Limit your saturated fats and sugar intake," he advises.
Don't smoke—and avoid secondhand smoke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chemicals in cigarette smoke can trigger a range of cardiovascular conditions by causing swelling and inflammation in the cells that line blood vessels. These include atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysm, and more.
"Do not smoke, and stay away from secondhand smoke. We have known for a long time that smoking, specifically the chemicals in the smoke, greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke," says Chen.
Another important daily habit that will keep your heart healthy is to prioritize good quality sleep. You can do this by adhering to a regular bedtime, making your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and conducive to sleep, turning off electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and limiting caffeine throughout the day.
"Insomnia and other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea can negatively impact heart health through multiple mechanisms such as increasing sympathetic nervous system activity, dysregulating autonomic nervous system activity, and increasing systemic inflammation," Chen explains.
Take care of your dental health.
Brushing, flossing, and rinsing are also important daily habits for keeping your heart young and healthy, says Chen.
"Maintaining good dental health and hygiene is important to keep the heart healthy. There is a strong connection between gum disease (periodontal disease) and heart conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart valve disease," he says.
The cardiologist explains that bacteria in gum disease can migrate into the bloodstream and increase levels of inflammation throughout the body—including in the coronary arteries. "This can lead to increased risk of heart attack and stroke," he warns.
Next, Tang says you'll want to aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week to keep your heart young and healthy. This could include any aerobic activity that gets your heart rate pumping, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming.
"This will help improve your heart's capacity, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure. It also can help identify early warning signs of heart disease," he says.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine add that you can increase the benefits by also integrating resistance training such as moderate weightlifting into your routine.
Finally, Tang recommends making a smartwatch or fitness tracker a part of your daily heart health plan.
"Smartwatches can help monitor your heart rate and rhythm, sleep patterns, and daily activity levels," he explains. "They have tools that can help you reach your fitness goals, schedule your medications, and help facilitate meditation or breathing exercises. This data can be used to improve and guide you to a heart-healthy lifestyle."
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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. If you have health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.