How To Increase Heart Health?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some people die of heart disease because they have unalterable risk factors such as a genetic predisposition to heart problems. On the other hand, many factors that boost your risk of heart disease are completely avoidable. Starting today, you can adopt five habits that will improve your heart's health and increase your chances of living a full life.

Stop Lighting Up

If you want your heart to be as healthy as possible, smoking cigarettes is a definite "no-no." Tobacco chemicals can cause your arteries to harden and become narrow, which reduces blood flow and increases your risk of heart attacks. This means that smokeless tobacco is also risky. Cigarettes also contain nicotine, which narrows your blood vessels and elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, a gas that replaces some of your blood's oxygen. When this happens, your heart has to pump harder to deliver enough oxygen to your body, which increases your blood pressure. Fortunately, you can reverse your risk of heart disease by quitting smoking right now. Just hours after you quit smoking, your blood's carbon monoxide levels start to go down, according to the National Institutes of Health. One day into quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate will start to go back down to normal. One year in, you are at a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

Choose Healthier Foods

Saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol-rich foods can contribute to high "bad" cholesterol, hardened and narrow arteries, and heart attacks when you consume them in large quantities, warns the American Heart Association. Adding large amounts of sodium to your food may also threaten your heart because it increases some people's blood pressure. Limit your intake of saturated fat to 7 percent of your total calories, make trans fats no more than about 1 percent of your total calories, limit your dietary cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day, and have less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Keep your diet heart-healthy by emphasizing lean proteins such as beans and white meat, having whole grains instead of refined grains, and replacing whole dairy products with low-fat or skim alternatives. Fruits, vegetables, and oily fish with omega-3 fatty acids should take center stage in a heart-healthy diet.

Get Moving

When you are active, you are less likely to gain weight and develop heart-straining conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ultimately, you should be getting a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days However, if you are new to exercise, ease yourself into a fitness regimen by starting with something as simple as a 10-minute walk per day. Keep your goals realistic. As you get more physically fit, slowly increase the pace, duration, or frequency of your workouts. Focus on doing what you enjoy. For example, tending your garden, taking a tap dance class, and taking your pooch for a walk all count as exercise.

Get Screened

Regular blood pressure and cholesterol screenings will help you stay in touch with what's going on inside your body. The National Health Information Center recommends that you start getting your blood pressure checked at least one time every two years starting at age 18. It also suggests getting your cholesterol checked once every five years or so. You may need more frequent cholesterol checks if you are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol or if you have borderline high cholesterol.


Chronic stress can be just as risky for your heart as smoking or being overweight, warns Harvard Health Publications No one knows exactly how being under stress increases your risk of heart disease, but stress hormones are probably at least part of the problem. Stress hormones can constrict your blood vessels, boost your heart rate, and make your blood vessels and heart extra reactive to future stress. Stress may also cause more inflammation in your body and boost your chances of having restricted blood flow to the heart. Being under stress may also indirectly increase your risk of heart disease because it can lead you to pick up unhealthy habits such as binging on junk food and smoking cigarettes. Talk to your doctor about ways you can reduce your stress levels. Getting more exercise, sleeping at least seven to eight hours per night, seeing a therapist, and using relaxation tools such as visualization can sometimes help.