6 habits for a healthier heart
in honor of American Heart Month 2018
Most of us know that exercise improves your cardiac health — you get moving and your heart pumps more, which helps your heart remain strong. But what else can you do to improve your heart health?
A few years ago, the American Heart Association, or the AHA, created Life’s Simple 7: seven ways to improve your cardiac health. One of those seven is exercising more. Your PT can help you create an exercise regimen to help you get moving, in the best way for your particular body. Use our locator to find a Physiquality therapist in your neighborhood.
Here are the AHA’s six other ways to make your heart stronger and healthier.
- Manage your blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can put you at risk for a variety of health problems, especially heart and kidney failure, stroke and vascular disease.
It’s important to know in what range your blood pressure falls, as well as whether it’s consistent over time. Talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and whether it falls into a healthy range under the new hypertension guidelines that the AHA published with the American College of Cardiology last fall. If it doesn’t, while there are medicines to take for hypertension, your doctor will most likely advise some lifestyle changes to improve your blood pressure first: lower your sodium intake, eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce stress, and exercise more.
- Control your cholesterol.
In the past, patients were simply told to watch their cholesterol levels, as it can lead to blocked arteries and stroke. Now we know that LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) is the type that leads to these build-ups, while “good” or HDL cholesterol actually cleans your arteries of plaque and build-ups. When your doctor runs blood tests, you usually get a report on both types of cholesterol, with the hopes that your HDL levels are higher than your LDL levels.
If you have high levels of LDL cholesterol, you may be able to lower it simply by eating a low-fat diet and monounsaturated fats, like olive or canola oil; others may need help with medication. Speak to your doctor about what cholesterol range is right for you, and how best to achieve it.
- Lower your blood sugar levels.
Your blood sugar level is literally the amount of sugar, or glucose in your blood. High glucose or blood sugar levels can be a sign of type 2 diabetes and can lead to nerve damage, kidney or eye problems, heart disease and stroke.
As with cholesterol, there are medications that can regulate your blood sugar, but for most people it is better to start by changing your eating habits. Eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking fewer sugary drinks, and filling up on high fiber foods are easy ways to reduce the amount of sugar you’re consuming.
- Eat better.
The AHA notes, “A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy — for life!”
The AHA nutrition recommendations aren’t anything new: Focus on fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and chicken and fish, and avoid foods and drinks that are high on salt, fat or sugar – and low on nutrients. If you’re trying to change your habits, Harvard Medical School recommends adding one extra fruit or vegetable a day, or eating a handful of nuts as a snack in the afternoon.
- Stop smoking.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health. It can lead to cardiovascular problems like stroke and coronary heart disease; respiratory illnesses like emphysema and chronic bronchitis; and cancer, not only in the lungs, but also throughout the rest of the body.
If you want to quit smoking, it can be hard to do it on your own. The AHA has plenty of resources to help you quite successfully.
- Lose weight.
While we know losing weight sounds easier than it usually is, it has been shown that having extra pounds on your frame causes stress on your heart, lungs, bones and even blood vessels. The good news is that by following the guidelines mentioned above — eating healthier foods, lowering your blood sugar levels, and, yes, exercising — people often lose weight.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:
American Heart Association.
O’Connor, Anahad. Seven habits for a healthy heart. New York Times, December 2017.
New ACC/AHA high blood pressure guidelines lower definition of hypertension. American College of Cardiology, November 13, 2017.
Health effects of cigarette smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 15, 2017.
Diagnosing diabetes and learning about prediabetes. American Diabetes Association, December 9, 2014.
Freedman, Judi. Seven top ways to improve your heart health. Huffington Post, February 7, 2014.
10 small steps for better heart health. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
Sugar cubes image © Jerome Charles Potts