Your heart is the powerhouse of your entire body, responsible for pumping blood and delivering vital oxygen and nutrients to every corner of your being. That’s why maintaining heart health is absolutely crucial for a vibrant, energetic and healthy life. But how do we keep our heart in tip top shape? It’s actually not all that difficult and a few smart choices can go a long way. Taking time to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet full of heart-friendly foods and managing stress are an excellent start. However, there are many other simple ways you can build a strong, resilient heart that will support you for many years to come.
Why Maintaining Heart Health is So Important
It’s easy to overlook your heart health, as the threat doesn’t always feel immediate or even realistic. After all, if your heart is pumping everything is fine, right? Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. There are a variety of serious health complications that can arise even when your heart is beating just as it should. Now, we don’t mean to scare you but the potential risks are certainly worth knowing so you can understand exactly why maintaining heart health is so crucial.
Prevent Heart Disease
One of the most important reasons why you want to start prioritizing your heart heath is to prevent heart disease. This silent killer claims more lives than all types of cancers combined. It has remained the leading cause of death among adults for decades. Unfortunately, 72% of Americans don’t see themselves as being at risk, which may be why 82% of people fail to take action when it comes to preventing heart attacks.
Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking that you’re still not at risk. Studies reveal that the majority of Americans have at least one risk factor, whether it’s obesity which affects 42% of the population, or unhealthy habits, such as smoking cigarettes. But even if happen to be one of the few Americans who don’t have any risk factors, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your heart is healthy or that you won’t develop heart disease.
As for the risks, they just aren’t worth playing around with. Heart disease can lead to:
- Heart failure
- Heart attacks
- Peipheral arter disease
- Sudden cardiac arrest
Here’s the most important thing: heart disease and these risks are preventable! In fact, approximately 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy behaviours. So, this is one reason why it’s so important to maintain a healthy heart.
Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that although heart disease is preventable, it isn’t reversible. As such, it’s imperative to be pro-active today before it’s too late.
Reduce The Risks of Other Health Concerns
A healthy heart can also do wonders for maintaining various aspects of your overall health. For example, some benefits that come with a strong, healthy heart include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Balanced blood sugar levels
- Balanced insulin levels
- Reduced risk of heart attacks
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Reduced risk of stroke
- Lower risk of dementia
- Improved circulation
- Prevent type 2 diabetes
- Prevent asthma
- Reduce your risk of cancer
- Improve joint pain
The list of benefits goes on and on, but these are certainly at the top of the list.
Better, Stronger Mental Health
Taking care of your heart health goes far beyond the physical aspect, as it also has a significant impact on your mental health. The link between heart health and mental health is evident and it goes both ways. Not only can mental health issues arise with the diagnosis of heart-related issues but mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can also increase the risk of heart disease. Now, add in the fact that anxiety and depression are common experiences people have after a heart attack or heart surgery, and you can quickly fall into a vicious, not-heart-friendly cycle.
By prioritizing your heart health, you can mitigate the risks of heart disease, while also helping to prevent mental health concerns. And if you struggle with health anxiety in particular, making sure your heart is in good shape is an excellent way to calm those fears.
Ways to Improve Your Heart Health
Reading about all the potential (and very serious) risks of an unhealthy heart can certainly be intimidating and overwhelming. The good news: heart problems are preventable and all it takes is embracing a healthy lifestyle. Choosing to have healthier habits, such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, can shield you from various chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint pain, and even some forms of cancer. And there are many options to choose from.
Ideally, you’ll want to implement all of these healthy habits for optimal health well throughout your mind and body. But if that seems too much to take on all at once, small gradual steps make a difference too.
Start by incorporating one healthy aspect into your life. It could be as simple as adding a daily serving of vegetables or taking a brisk walk each day. As this habit starts to feel like a normal part of your day, gradually introduce additional healthy habits. Before you know it, you’ll feel empowered rather than overwhelmed by the positive changes you’ve made.
To get you started on your healing journey, here are some top suggestions for maintaining not only heart health, but health in general.
Eat a Heart-Friendly Diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is going to have a significant impact on your heart health, overall physical health, mental health – you name it. Unfortunately, we’ve all been told to “eat healthier” but don’t necessarily know what that even means. So, let’s break it down: the foundation of your diet should consist primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and lean proteins. These nutrient-dense foods will power your mind and body with everything it needs to function properly and efficiently. Easy enough, right?
If you’re more likely to succeed with a diet plan, the Mediterranean diet is recognized as the healthiest way to eat. It has been shown to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of heart disease, as well as cancer & dementia. You don’t have to do any extreme dieting, counting calories or anything of the sort because the power is in the food, which consists of lots of healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans, and nuts.
However, if diving head-first into a new diet isn’t for you, try implementing these simple steps and tips over a period of time:
- Aim to have your dinner plate full of a variety of colors – red, orange, yellow and dark greens – to ensure a rich array of essential vitamins and minerals.
- Opt for organic when possible to limit your exposure to toxins.
- Avoid heavily processed foods, including boxed and packaged items, pre-made meals and ready-to-eat snacks, as they often contain all kinds of additives and preservatives that are not good for you.
- Always check your canned goods, as they sometimes have high amounts of sodium in them, which is particularly not good for your heart health.
- Be mindful of how much salt you consume and opt for low-salt alternatives.
- Stay hydrated. Drink more water and less juice, energy drinks, soda and caffeine. You want to try to drink at least 8 glasses of water each day.
- Allow yourself to indulge once in a while to maintain a healthy relationship with food. So, reward yourself for making healthy choices and remember, moderation is key.
Achieve a Weight That is Healthy For You
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for your heart health (and overall wellbeing), as being obese or overweight can have significant health implications. As your weight increases, so does your body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on your height and weight that indicates body fat levels. Having a higher BMI values correlate with increased risks of conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and elevated blood sugar levels. Obesity also raises the likelihood of experiencing breathing difficulties, gallbladder disease, liver disease, and even certain types of cancer.
To start shedding excess weight and improve health, incorporate a combination of healthy food choices and regular exercise into your day. Even a modest amount of weight loss can have a profound impact on your well-being. In fact, losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
Here are some additional tips to help you boost your weight loss:
- Eat more slowly.
- Only eat until you’re satisfied.
- Control your portions.
- Try intermittent fasting.
- Drink a full glass of water before each meal.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Aim to increase your daily steps.
- Park further away from the entrance.
- Cook and eat at home.
- Meal prep to prevent grabbing the “quick” meal options.
- Eat more wholefoods and fewer processed ones.
- Consume more protein.
- Find daily physical activities that you enjoy, such as walking or biking.
- Make exercise fun by doing a dance class or having a friend join you.
By embracing a balanced diet that includes nutrient-rich foods and engaging in a regular exercise program, you can take control of your weight and enhance your overall health.
Exercise Every Single Day
Yes, every single day. Just like the muscles in your body, working your heart will make it stronger. A stronger heart means that it can efficiently pump blood, ensuring the delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients to various parts of your body. Exercise can also reduce the risk of plaque buildup in your arteries, which is a waxy substance that can obstruct arteries, impede blood flow to the heart and even cause an artery blockage or heart attack.
So you have to start working out. However, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for an expensive gym membership or purchase at-home exercise equipment. You just have to get up and get move. Take a walk, opt for the stairs at work, do some push-ups or sit-ups during commercial breaks, or dance around your living room.
Once you are getting more physical activity into your day, you can start incorporating specific exercise regimes or types. For example, aerobic exercise directly impacts the health of your heart. You can run on a treadmill or sign up for a Zumba class, go for a bike ride or join a spin class, or do any activity that increases your heart rate.
Start Managing Your Stress
Stress is often at the center of all kinds of physical and mental health issues, and your heart health is no exception. Studies have found a significant link between long-term stress and its impact on heart health. That’s because with stress comes increased levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which has been found to cause an increase in blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are well-established risk factors associated with the development of heart disease. Chronic stress can induce changes in the body that promote the accumulation of plaque deposits within the arteries, further compromising cardiovascular health. Plus, being stressed out all the time doesn’t feel good and it can take a serious toll on many other aspects of your physical and mental health. So, it’s time to start managing it. Here are some tips:
- Start doing yoga.
- Meditate every day.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Learn relaxation techniques.
- Journal your daily stresses to release them.
- Make to-do lists and organize.
- Talk it out with a loved one or therapist.
In addition to these three main factors, you’ll always want to try to tackle any unhealthy habits that are affecting your health, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking excessively or emotional eating. And remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Every step counts and with each positive change you make, you can look forward to a healthier heart.