Secrets to a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

by Nicole Pajer
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Secrets to a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but there are many things you can do on a daily basis to help reduce your chances of falling victim to the condition — and it’s never too late to start.

Here are few steps you can take now to keep your heart healthy and strong:  


“Physical activity boosts your overall cardiovascular health by helping to improve and maintain your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and a healthy BMI,” says Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, the national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. “Any type of activity that makes you move your body and burn calories is beneficial for your heart health — running, biking, strength training and even gardening,” says Steinbaum. “The most important feature is getting your heart rate up, and doing that 150 minutes a week.”



Studies show yoga offers many defenses against heart disease. “Yoga can help lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve respiratory function and heart rate and boost circulation and muscle tone. Yoga has been shown to decrease the stress hormones and fight-or-flight response and decrease blood pressure, heart rate and can help dilate the arteries,” says Steinbaum.


“Maintaining a healthy diet, that you adopt early in life, can help keep your heart healthy by keeping your cholesterol, sugar and blood pressure low,” explains Steinbaum. Morton Tavel, MD, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine recommends the DASH diet as an effective way to stop hypertension. “The DASH diet is a diet that is low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and total fat. It is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. The DASH diet also includes whole-grain products, fish, poultry and nuts. It encourages fewer servings of red meat, sweets and sugar-containing beverages. It is rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium, as well as protein and fiber,” he explains.


Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), reduce triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure. Matthew Budoff, MD, professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine and director of cardiology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, suggests eating two or more servings of fish per week. “Fish is an excellent food substitution for meat products and is high in protein and omega-3’s [good fats],” he explains. To maximize the health benefits, opt for fatty fish such as salmon, herring, lake trout and sardines. Avoid varieties with high mercury levels like swordfish and bigeye tuna.


“The sooner that you find a regular practice to deal with stress, the better off that you are,” notes Steinbaum. “Stress can be debilitating, increasing blood pressure, heart rate, causing lack of sleep and leading to obesity. And when you’re under stress, making heart-healthy choices is less likely.” To get a grip on life’s anxieties, try meditating, doing a yoga session, listening to calming music, taking a relaxing bath or booking a massage.


Lighting up a cigarette has serious heart-health repercussions. According to Steinbaum, continuing to smoke throughout your life can shave as much as 13–14 years off of it. “Once you stop, your risk for heart disease and stroke can be cut in half after just one year and will continue to decline until it’s as low as a non-smoker’s risk,” she explains.


According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, being overweight can increase your chances of falling victim to an array of serious ailments such as heart disease. A good way to make sure you are at a healthy weight is to keep tabs on your body mass index. To find your current BMI, plug your weight and height into the MyFitnessPal BMI Calculator. The tool helps you to determine whether or not your BMI falls within a normal range and also suggests a target weight range to aim for if your current body mass index falls outside the healthy zone.


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