The minute to cross the threshold into your 40s, your risk for developing heart disease becomes entirely too real. In fact, men aged 40 to 59 represent 6 percent of the people who have heart disease, while women of the same age represent 5.6 percent—a big jump from the less-than-1 percent for both genders in their 20s and 30s.
Heart disease remains the number one killer of adults in the United States, with over 350,000 people succumbing to heart disease each year and annually estimated to cost the country more than $200 billion. Even though heart disease kills one in seven Americans each year, education efforts and healthier lifestyles have begun to turn back the deadly disease bit by bit—from 2005 to 2015 the number of people who have died from heart disease dropped by almost 18%.
If you care about your health—and the emotional and financial well-being of your family—you’ll do everything you can to build and maintain a strong and vigorous heart. That’s why we’ve compiled the definitive list of the strategies you should employ to keep your ticker in tip-top shape. Looking for more helpful hints when it comes to heart health, check out The 10 Best Foods for Your Heart.
Load up on tomato-based products like sauce (ask for extra on your pizza!) and add a few more slices to your sandwich. Studies show that lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, can keep artery walls clean. Just go easy on the ketchup: It’s filled with sugar.
Filling up on the daily recommended amount of potassium has been found to keep blood pressure in check, meaning your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, so have another banana. To get the recommended 3,500mg a day, try adding sweet potatoes or spinach to a dish. And for more ways to keep your heart strong, learn to avoid The Common OTC Drug That Raises Your Risk of a Heart Attack.
Spice up your life
Spices like ginger and turmeric harbor high levels of plant compounds that can act as anti-inflammatories when we ingest them, so add Indian food and Chinese cuisine to your recipe repertoire. Low inflammation in the body means a healthier heart. And for more amazing uses for turmeric, learn How Using Turmeric Can Make Your Teeth Whiter Than They’ve Ever Been.
Research has revealed that making sure you stay hydrated—to the tune of at least five 8-ounce glasses a day—can drop your risk of developing heart disease by an astonishing 60%. Pick up a durable double-walled stainless steel bottle and keep it filled and by your desk all day.
Start a row
If you can’t stand the StairMaster or dread getting up on a treadmill, have a seat at the rower the next time you need to pound out some cardio. Studies say that the aquatic analogue uses more of your muscles with each motion and ends up moving more blood through your body, making your heart bullish.
Don’t fear the yolk
Eggs were on most dietitians’ and doctors’ no-no list for decades because the yolks contain a good amount of cholesterol. But recent research has found that just because there is cholesterol in a food, doesn’t mean it will influence levels in your body. Eat eggs everyday, yolk and all, as they pack a bunch of vitamins and minerals and packs high-quality protein and good fats.
Pop the question
If you’re in a long-term relationship, go ahead and ask your boo to marry you—it’s good for your health and your heart. Guys who are hitched have a lower risk of dying from heart disease than those lonely hearts out there, says recent research. And fellas, if you are thinking about getting down on one knee, be sure you’re well aware of the 20 Ways To Absolutely Nail Your Marriage Proposal.
Adhering to living a life of cleanliness in general is a good all-around tip, but studies have shown that when your body wars with frequent infections it can cause a build up of the antibodies that fight off invaders. And people an excess of forgotten warriors in circulation also had an increased incidence of clogged arteries. Be sure to regularly wash your hands vigorously when out and about, but stay away from anti-bacterial soaps.
Read someone a story
Snuggling in with your loved ones and reading them a story has been found to significantly lower your heart rate and make stress levels plummet. All good things when trying to decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Just stay away from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark—that’s a heart-racing chiller!
Pick up a pooch
For an easy, and rewarding, way to beat stress go to your local animal shelter and pick out a dog who desperately needs a home. It may be a hectic first few months as your new furry friend settles in, but the long-term benefits of companionship and stress-melting petting sessions will calm your heart. For more on how a pup will help your health, learn the 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting A Pet.
Change your oil
Make sure the oil you drizzle across your salad is olive oil, says a recent study. Olive oil has unsaturated fats that, when mixed with nitrite-rich vegetables like lettuce, combine to produce compounds called nitro fatty acids. This little food chemistry experiment can create enzymes that tamp down blood pressure.
Invest in ear plugs
Sleeping in a cool, dark environment is well-known to be essential for promoting restful and restorative slumber, but how quiet it is is important too. Studies have shown that experiencing moderately loud noises—like a washing machine or air conditioner—at night when sleeping can up your risk for high blood pressure, a factor in developing heart disease.
Become a cardio-yogi
Mixing up your yoga sessions with cardio can give your exercise routine just the jolt it needs to up protection from heart disease, says a new study. It found that the combo gave people twice the reduction in body mass, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Beware aches and pains
People with fairly common complaints like sore shoulders from joint pain or rotator cuff injury were found to be at increased risk of heart disease, a recent study found. Those with shoulder pain were more likely to have other symptoms that put them at risk of heart disease, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Get a full physical if persistent shoulder pain has been plaguing you.
Keep your gums healthy
Doctors have recently figured out that there is a link between oral hygiene and heart disease. They are not sure what the link is between gum disease, perhaps related risk factors like smoking or diabetes, but they do know that a healthy mouth usually means a healthy heart. Get regular check-ups and cleaning, and don’t forget to floss!
Eat whole foods
This simple tip can be hard for people that are used to shoving processed foods (mostly found in boxes) in their mouth as sugar-laden and fat-filled foods can be psychologically, and even physically addicting, to some. But if you just limit your diet to a majority of real foods (mostly found in the produce, meat, and seafood sections) you heart will be healthier. For more healthy food, check out the 30 Best Foods for Maximizing Your Energy Levels.
Most Americans load up on salt (and get much more then they need from hidden sodium in processed foods) and, on average, eat about 3,400mg each day, which is far over the recommended 2,300mg. That amount is equivalent to about one teaspoon of salt—each day. And most experts suggest only getting 1,500mg a day. Dropping 1,000mg a day can significantly improve heart health.
Stress is another silent killer that, as it builds up each day, increases your blood pressure and heart rate to unhealthy levels, putting an extra strain on your blood vessels and heart. Limit stress by learning some stress management tactics and taking the time to meditation or chill out with tasks or hobbies that you enjoy. For tricks on slashing your stress for good, learn to avoid the 20 Common Mistakes That Only Compound Your Stress.
Maintain a healthy gut
Studies are increasingly pointing to the fact that keeping the populations of beneficial bacteria in your gut in balance and healthy can help ward off heart disease. Be sure to load up on fibrous fruits and veggies that will give the good gut guys the fuel they need to thrive and eat probiotics like yogurt to maintain good bacteria populations.
Do multi-joint exercises
Once you commit to regularly hitting up the gym, you need to make a plan that includes doing multi-joint, or compound, exercises—like squats, deadlifts, pushups, and lunges—since these will challenge your body more. Your heart will have to work harder, which will make it stronger, plus your metabolism will get a boost, helping to torch fat.
Even if you’re no gym rat and feel intimidated by using free weights, it’s important to stress your body by lifting weights. Try out the machines to ease your way into pumping iron, and look up some resistance routines that will challenge you and your heart.
Don’t ignore snoring
Snoring isn’t just for annoying your partner in bed, it may also be a sign of a sleeping disorder like sleep apnea, which can contribute to heart disease by making blood pressure levels rise. If your bedmate is constantly complaining about your late night serenades, get checked out by your doctor. And if you need to learn how to quiet down once and for all, check out The 5 Reasons Why You’re Snoring—And How to Stop It.
Learn the warning signs
You may already have heart disease and not know it if you haven’t been keeping up with your doctor appointments. If you have any symptoms like pressure or squeezing in your chest or shortness of breath, then you may have angina, an early sign that you have heart disease. Go to the doctor for a full assessment.
Know your family history
One of the most significant and telling ways to learn about your risk of developing heart disease is to check your family health history. If there are any warning signs like members of your immediate family having heard disease, let your current doctor know as you may need to take a stricter approach to heart health.
Avoid secondhand smoke
Along with not smoking, steering clear of other smokers or places where smokers congregate is important. Thankfully state and city laws have all but eliminated smoking in bars and restaurants in most states, so it’s not too tough to escape tobacco smoke. It’s estimated that secondhand smoke causes around 34,000 early deaths from heart disease in the U.S.
Limit alcohol intake
Though moderate—about two drinks per day—alcohol intake has been shown to help with heart health and even brain functioning, the key is to limit drinking. Going over that low daily amount over the long term though, can significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Don’t get fat
One of the most cut-and-dried methods to avoid getting heart disease is to watch your weight and not become overweight or obese. Sticking to a healthy diet and exercising regularly is the best way to accomplish that, you just have to make sure you keep it up for life.
Get restful sleep
Sleep has been shown in recent years to be more and more important for good health and a strong heart. Experts recommend you get from 7 to 9 hours a night of quality sleep. To make sure your slumber is optimum, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine for 4 to 6 hours before, create a cool and dark environment, and limit screen time about an hour before you bed down.
Choose plants more often
You don’t have to become a vegetarian to have a healthier heart, but if you want to keep heart disease at bay it’s important to switch from eating lots of meat to eating mostly plants. Some lean meats and lots of fish are fine, but loading up on fruits and veggies will make your heart happier in the long run.
Cut out sugar
Along with keeping processed foods away and limiting salt intake, it’s also important to be on top of how much sugar you are eating everyday. Drop anything with added sugars—soft drinks, fruit juice, cookies, cakes, candy—and stick with food that has naturally occurring sugar like whole fruit and milk.
Eat more fish
Part of having a healthy diet means that your red meat intake should be cut down. It’s not only better for the planet, but it’s also better for your waistline and your heart health. Add in fish and seafood to take the place of your protein cravings and limit red meat to twice a week, or about 17 ounces.
Nibble on dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is chockfull of heart-healthy flavonoids, or plant compounds that act like antioxidants, so make sure you get a small piece everyday. Go for 1- to 2-ounce (a small square) a day and make sure to get chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa.
Have more sex
To augment your regular moderate exercise each week, make sure you get some vigorous activity in the bedroom. Having sex not only helps strengthen your heart, it also releases feel-good endorphins that can make stress melt away and lower your blood pressure. We prescribe getting horizontal at least two times a week in the sheet to keep heart disease at bay.
Don’t eat late
Try to get your dinner in as early as possible since studies have shown that the later you eat at night, the more likely you are to become overweight and have a compromised metabolism, which can lead to a higher risk of heart disease down the road. Aim so that your last meal is three hours or more before you hit the hay.
Have more fun
Learning to relax and laugh more often in your life can lead to many health benefits, not just a stronger heart. Adopting a positive attitude and letting more humor into your life will help lessen your general stress levels, which lowers production of the hormone cortisol. More cortisol in your system has been shown to lead to more belly fat.
Limit red and processed meats
If you’ve started to switch to more lean meats and fish and seafood, then you’re already on the way to limited your intake of these meats. Red and processed meats—beef, lamb, pork, bacon, sausage, ham—are usually high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium. High levels of these are all of linked to heart disease.
Snack on nuts
Switch out candy, cookies, and chips for some nutrient-dense and heart-healthy nuts. Nuts are filled with antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals that can all help keep you and your heart healthy. They have also been linked to helping to lower your cholesterol, another heart-centric benefit.
Stand up often
Regular exercise each week is paramount to getting your heart healthy, but you can simply remember to stand up often when around the office or at home. Try to limit the amount of time you spend sitting down (maybe invest in a standing desk at work) as studies have shown that time on your butt adds up to a shorter life.
Be wary of supplements
There are some supplements out there that have been shown to positively benefit heart health, like fish oil and sterols, but be wary of claims of other, novel products. Be sure to do your research—online and with your doctor—before buying any expensive, and sometimes untested, supplements.
You’ve heard it a million time, but it bears repeating: This is the number one way to keep your heart healthy. Simply never, ever lighting up a cancer stick or using tobacco products will drop your risk of heart disease significantly. If you do smoke, quit now—studies have shown that your level of risk of dying an early death will decrease to that of someone who has never smoked after 20 years of abstaining. For more on how smoking can effect you, This Is What One Cigarette a Day Does to Your Body.
To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter!