20 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease This Summer
Take advantage of the warm weather to get moving with these easy steps to a healthier heart.
It's hard to believe, but 1 in 4 people die from heart disease in the United States. That's 647,000 Americans every year and one death every 37 seconds, according June 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But despite it being the leading cause of death in the U.S., it doesn't have to be. According to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of cases are completely preventable, and there are many different things you can start doing right now in order to ensure your heart stays healthy for years to come. Here are 20 ways to reduce your risk of heart disease this summer and beyond. And for more on taking care of your ticker, check out The 20 Worst Habits That Are Destroying Your Heart.
Try to work up a sweat every day.
There are many different reasons to make exercising a priority, as it not only keeps you healthy physically, but mentally as well. One major reason, though, is that it helps your heart stay strong and in tip-top shape. "Aerobic exercise and high-intensity interval training can help improve overall health and reduce your risk of heart disease. We know that increasing your exercise—up to 150 minutes per week—dramatically reduces your risk of heart disease," says Nate Favini, MD, an internist and the medical lead at Forward in San Francisco. "Even if you're not able to get in 150 minutes a week, any exercise is better than none." And for ideas on how to work up that daily sweat, check out The 50 Best 5-Minute Exercises Anyone Can Do.
Check in with your doctor regularly.
According to Jennifer Haythe, MD, a critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease is make an appointment with your doctor. "Up to 80 percent of heart disease is preventable with risk factor modification. Prevention is key," she says. "See your doctor and get screened for the biggest risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Starting at age 20, all individuals should be screened." And when you visit your physician make sure you discuss these 20 Questions to Ask Your Doctor Once a Year.
And get to know your family's medical history.
It's never too early to learn about your family's medical history. "Cardiovascular disease has a strong genetic component," Haythe says. "Because of that, you should talk to your family—parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts—about your family's history and what kinds of diseases they did or didn't suffer from. This will help your doctor risk stratify you." When your doctor knows what you're up against, they'll be better able to catch problems early and keep you—and your heart—healthy for years to come. Speaking of years to come, check out these 50 Important Habits Linked to a Longer Life.
Say goodbye to unhealthy snacks.
As great as it is snacking on all the unhealthy foods in your cupboard, Haythe says it's not worth it when it comes to your heart health. "Get the chips and dips and cookies and snacks out of the house and replace them with fruits and vegetables," she says. The science doesn't lie: A 2019 study published in The BMJ found eating ultra-processed foods can put you at a higher risk of heart disease. Plus, snacking on fruit and veggies can be just as satisfying.
Limit the amount of sugar you're eating.
Something as simple as cutting down on sugar can help you live a longer, healthier life. "Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet will decrease your risk of diabetes and obesity, both of which are directly linked to heart disease," Favini says. Instead, make sure the bulk of your diet is whole foods—not boxed goodies from the grocery store that contain more sugar per serving than you should eat in an entire day.
Meditation is a much-needed practice for your mind and your heart. Especially this year, where everyone is dealing with peak levels of stress and anxiety. "It's been a tough five months, and everyone is frazzled," Haythe says. "Meditation can help, and that can mean sitting quietly for 15 to 20 minutes a day and just calming your thoughts down. This helps lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress, which all can increase your risk of a cardiac event."
And work on decreasing your stress levels.
Stress can take a serious toll on your health. "High stress levels are linked to high cortisol levels, which can lead to high blood sugar and blood pressure," says Favini—two things that can increase your risk of heart disease. The good thing is he's fully aware that it's impossible to avoid all stress, and that's not necessary. Instead, it's all about managing the stress you do have by "doing activities that ground you, like exercise or meditation," he says. And for more ways to find some calm in your life, check out 5 Easy Ways to Manage Your Stress Right Now, According to a Doctor.
Talk to a doctor about your depression.
Don't go through your life battling depression. Instead of letting it affect your day-to-day life, talk with a doctor or therapist and figure out the best treatment option for you. Not only will it help get your mental health back on track, but it can greatly benefit your heart, too. "Depression has been linked to poor heart health," Favini says. "Be attentive to your mood and address issues early to maintain your mental health." And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Cut back on fried foods.
Eating French fries every now and then is totally fine, but Haythe recommends staying away from fried foods other than maybe the occasional indulgence. "Your heart will thank you," she says. Especially since a 2019 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found eating fried food can increase your risk of heart disease. Get the same great texture and taste by using an air fryer instead, which allows you to cook up crispy food minus all the oil.
Eat more fiber.
It's been shown time and time again that eating more fiber can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn can help prevent heart disease. "Increasing your consumption of fiber reduces your chance of heart problems down the road," Favini says. You can do so by adding more whole grains, vegetables, oats, beans, nuts, and fruit into your diet. And for more on why making this aspect of your health a priority right now is so important, check out Nearly 60 Percent of Coronavirus Patients Have High Blood Pressure.
Eat more healthy fats.
Getting more fiber is important, but Favini says upping the amount of healthy fats you eat is crucial, too. "Increasing your consumption of healthy fats from foods like olive oil, nuts, and fish reduces your chance of heart problems in the future," he says. Both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to help protect against heart disease, Harvard Health says. So, don't be afraid of adding more into your diet—it's only doing your body good.
Get more sleep.
Getting sleep is tough—especially during the summer months when the sun sets later and you want to extend those warm days as long as you possibly can. But Haythe says sleep is crucial for stress reduction, your mood, mental acuity, energy, and your heart. "Try to go to bed 30 to 45 minutes earlier than you normally do. Seven to eight hours a night is ideal," she says. "Don't worry—you can scroll through Twitter and catch up on emails in the morning." Since those who don't get enough sleep at night are at a higher risk of heart disease, according to the Sleep Foundation, it really should be a top priority.
Stop smoking, once and for all.
You know smoking is bad for you. In fact, the CDC says it hurts pretty much every organ in your body—especially your lungs and heart. Aside from increasing your risk of stroke and lung cancer, it can also up your risk of heart disease. "Smoking even one cigarette a day stiffens your arteries and can substantially increase your risk of heart disease," says Favini. Just imagine what an entire pack a day can do. Now's the time to give it up for good.
Avoid secondhand smoke at all costs.
While smoking is horrible for your heart, exposing yourself to secondhand smoke can seriously impact your health as well. According to the CDC, secondhand smoke—even as a nonsmoker—can increase your risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. Not only that, but it can also increase your risk of stroke and death. And yes, even something like chatting with a friend over their smoke break at work counts.
Take care of your gums.
You might take good care of your teeth, but when's the last time you checked in on your gum health? "This may seem unrelated, but taking care of your gums can actually prevent periodontal or gum disease, which is linked to a higher rate of heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular events," Favini says. "This could be a result of overall poorer health, but we also know that periodontal disease increases inflammation in your body, which is a driver of heart disease." To keep your oral health in check, he recommends brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly, and seeing your dentist about any issues that come up.
Go on a brisk daily walk.
Getting outside and going on a walk every day can give your heart health a boost. "If you've been sitting too much during quarantine, it's time to get moving," Haythe says. "Don't feel like you have to run five miles a day. Start out with a 15 minute walk outside and increase that time over the weeks to build up to 45 minutes, 4 times a week of brisk walking." The American Heart Association says walking can lower your chances of heart disease, so there's no reason not to go get that fresh air. You'll return home feeling healthier and more energized.
Don't forget to take your medications.
If your doctor prescribes you a medication to take, you take it… right? That's not always the case when it comes to heart health, and it's something Haythe sees regularly. "So many people are prescribed medication for blood pressure or cholesterol and don't take them. You can't feel high blood pressure or high cholesterol, so trust that your doctor knows what they're doing," she says. "If side effects are bothering you, talk to your doctor about trying something else. There are so many medicines on the market, and you should be able to find one right for you."
Try the DASH diet.
If you know your blood pressure is high, try the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Appoaches to Stop Hypertension. According to James Yeh, MD, a board-certified internist in Boston, it's designed to lower blood pressure through a diet filled with fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean meats. "These foods are typically high in fiber and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium," he told Harvard Health. Not only can it help prevent heart disease, but it can also help prevent other issues like cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
Don't ignore your snoring.
If your significant other is constantly complaining about how much you snore at night, don't ignore it. Instead, take action. According to the American Heart Association, one in five adults have sleep apnea—even if it's just a mild form. If that sleep apnea isn't treated, it can have devastating effects on your heart health, contributing to heart disease and stroke.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Putting on some extra pounds—especially during a pandemic where you're trapped at home a lot of the time—is easy to do. But when it comes to your heart, do your best to keep up a healthy diet and workout schedule in order to maintain a healthy weight. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, having extra weight and a large waist size can increase your risk of heart disease.