Think keeping your heart healthy has to take a lot of extra effort? It doesn’t! Adopting some simple healthy habits and having regular checkups can help keep your ticker in tip-top shape.
1. Brush and floss your teeth. Researchers have found that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (perhaps from bacteria in the mouth getting into the bloodstream to the heart). Brush and floss every day, and see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.
2. Hide the salt shaker. Cutting back on salt reduces the chance of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day (about one teaspoon). Those with heart disease should keep it down to 1,500 mg per day. Take note of sodium content in foods such as canned soup and frozen meals, and choose reduced-sodium options.
3. Laugh, and laugh often. Laughter and a sense of humor may help protect against heart attack, according to a study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Mental stress may contribute to fat and cholesterol buildup in the coronary arteries that can lead to heart attack. Read a funny book, go see a comedy, or take a walk with a friend who makes you laugh.
4. Watch your waistline. Excess belly fat has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and high blood pressure. If you find yourself putting on extra pounds, make it your goal to stop gaining weight. Then, focus on reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. In general, women with a waist measurement of 35 inches or greater and men with 40 inches or more are considered overweight.
5. Eat right and exercise. To strengthen your heart and reduce your risk of disease, incorporate exercise and a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, into your life. Plan ahead for cravings by keeping satisfying snacks on hand, such as apple slices with peanut butter, carrot sticks or low-fat yogurt. For exercise, start by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and enjoy a brisk walk. The AHA recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week – which can be as simple as two 15-minute walks per weekday.
6. Savor a piece of chocolate. It’s important to eat a balanced diet, but indulging in a small square of dark chocolate a day (about 0.3 ounces) may help lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal.
7. Don’t smoke. Smoking or using other tobacco products is one of the top risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. Quitting smoking dramatically reduces your heart disease risk within just one year.