What’s always working in the background, even when you don’t see it? Your heart! No wonder heart health is so important.
As an amazing muscle that beats about 100,000 times a day, the heart is what keeps us all going—pumping oxygen-rich blood that other organs (like the lungs, brain and kidneys) need to stay healthy.
With all the good things your ticker does for you, it deserves some TLC. That’s especially true given the risk of heart problems: Heart disease can happen when the heart gets damaged from clogged arteries or other heart conditions. Sadly, it’s the number one killer worldwide.
Fortunately, simple day-to-day actions can reduce your risk for heart problems while providing all the other benefits of a healthy lifestyle, from improving your mood to fighting fatigue and more. So this year, resolve to be a little kinder to your heart with these easy heart health tips.
Eat for A Healthy Heart
What you put into your body can have a direct impact on your heart health. Nutritious food and drink choices can support cardiac function, while unhealthy choices can lead to buildup in your arteries that can increase your heart risks over time.
1. Eat the good stuff. Experts recommend a balanced diet that incorporates these five categories: fruits and veggies; whole grains; low-fat or fat-free dairy; protein-rich fish, eggs, nuts and lean meats; and “good fats” like canola, safflower or olive oils. To set yourself up for success, pick some healthy recipes; and plan your shopping list in advance.
2. Limit the bad stuff. There are four things worth cutting back on—saturated fats (found in butter, cheese or fatty meats), trans fats (found in foods made with partially hydrogenated oils), added sugars (found in sugary sodas and desserts), and sodium (found in some pre-made sauces). Learn to read food labels so you know what you’re eating.
3. Keep healthy snacks around. As you get hungry between meals, pick good-for-you choices like whole-grain crackers, plain Greek yogurt, hummus or fresh fruit. Just remember to be aware of what you’re eating. Mindless snacking, like when you’re in front of the TV, can lead to overeating.
4. Watch portion control. A healthy serving size of any food is likely smaller than you might think, so be especially wary before filling up your plate or eating a full entrée from a restaurant meal. The American Heart Association created a resource to help visualize suggested serving sizes using common household items.
5. Plan ahead. Avoid making rushed (and potentially unhealthy) nutritional decisions by planning your meals in advance, prepping healthy snacks for the week and packing a healthy lunch for work each day. Check cookbooks or online recipes when building your shopping list.
Get Your Heart Pumping
Physical activity can help your heart in many ways, from lowering your blood pressure to reducing stress and helping you manage weight. Between these benefits and many others, exercise is a critical piece of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
6. Get and stay active. Aim for 150 minutes per week (or more) of moderate physical activity, like walking at a fast pace or playing tennis. Just make sure you ask your healthcare provider before trying a new exercise routine.
7. Mix it up. Do a balance of activities that both build muscles and keep your heart rate up. It’s a good idea to fit in strengthening exercises (like lifting weights) at least twice a week.
8. Keep it fun. Fitness shouldn’t be something you dread, so try new things to make activities more enjoyable. Hiking, gardening or even following along with how-to dance videos online can all help take the work out of workouts.
Get Regular Healthcare
Your healthcare team can help you assess your heart risk, develop goals for healthy living and recommend necessary screenings, tests, procedures and medications to keep you feeling your best.
9. Follow your care plan. Find a primary doctor you like and schedule routine checkups as they recommend. Many preventive services such as cholesterol or blood pressure tests may be free with health insurance. If you’re prescribed medications, take them as instructed.
Take Charge of Your Health
Preventive care means being proactive in many aspects of life and health. Here are 10 easy things you can do, starting now.
10. Share your family history. Since some heart problems can run in families, tell your doctor about any health problems close relatives have had. For example, let them know if your parents had heart disease before age 55 (for men) or 65 (for women).
11. Play an active role in your healthcare. You have a voice in your healthcare, so use it! Be sure to ask questions and bring up any symptoms or concerns to your doctor. They’re there to listen and help you on the journey to good heart health.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress can negatively affect your heart health in many ways, from raising the risk of high blood pressure to impacting cholesterol levels. Exploring healthy ways to confront and cope with your stress can support your heart health—as well as your overall health.
12. Identify your stress. Everyone has different stress triggers. Learn to spot yours by keeping a journal and writing down how you feel every day. Once you know what leads to stress in your life, you can mitigate the impact of those stressors.
13. Connect with others (safely). Researchers have found that social relationships may help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and other problems—and may even help you live longer. Keep up with others from a safe distance with regular virtual check-ins. Even just hearing a loved one’s voice can make a difference.
14. Practice self-care daily. Acts of self-care can vary depending on what works for you. Some people enjoy taking a long soothing bath, diving into a good book or doing calming exercises like yoga or tai chi.
15. Get enough sleep. Quality slumber can help you feel more rested during the day while lowering your risk for major health problems like high blood pressure. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
16. Talk to a professional. If you need help, ask your primary care provider for a referral to a therapist. A professional can help you work through your unique stressors and barriers that keep you from living your best life.
Acknowledge and Work on Bad Habits
Unhealthy habits like smoking, heavy drinking and taking illicit drugs can have various impacts on the heart, from narrowing blood vessels to making your heart muscle more prone to pumping problems.
17. Quit using tobacco. If you use tobacco, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. Within two weeks of smoking your last cigarette, your blood flow starts to get better throughout your body. Take the first step by making a quit plan on smokefree.gov.
18. Limit alcohol. If you drink, do so moderately. Experts recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men. What’s considered one “drink” can vary by the alcohol type: 4 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
19. Address substance disorders. If you suffer from addiction issues, treatment can help. Get yourself the support you deserve by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Know the Signs of a Heart Attack—and What to Do If It Happens
If you believe that you or someone you know has a heart attack, act fast to get help. Every minute is precious, so dial 911 right away.
20. Learn to spot the signs. General signs of a heart attack include chest pain; lightheadedness; pain in the neck, jaw or back; pain in the arms or shoulders; or shortness of breath. Women may have different symptoms, like extreme tiredness or indigestion.
21. Make a plan to get help. Call 911 right away and try to calmly stay on the line with the dispatcher to answer their questions. If you’re with someone who has gone unconscious, let the 911 operator know; they may want you to do CPR or chest compressions. It’s a good idea to take an online CPR class; you could save a life.
Making Heart Health a Priority, All Year Round
Your heart does a lot for you every second of every day. Return the favor by taking care of it for the long-term: Eat well, get active, bust stress, address bad habits, find a healthcare team and learn to spot the signs of heart trouble so that you can get yourself or others prompt treatment.
These things are wonderful resolutions to make in 2021, but try not to let good intentions fizzle out. Keep up good habits and find a support network of loved ones and doctors who can keep you accountable and healthy.
That way, you can keep that ticker ticking in 2021 and beyond.
There’s a well-known Chinese proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What is the first step you will take to living a heart-healthy lifestyle? Let us know in the comments below.
This informational material shall not be considered medical or health advice. You should always consult your health care provider before changing your diet or starting a new exercise regimen. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for any decisions related to your medical or health care. Consult with your health care provider, nutritionist, or other health professional before making any decisions that may impact your health and well-being.