Although February is officially National Heart Health Awareness Month, it’s just an excellent time as any to focus and reflect on improving your heart health. As you age, your body changes how it functions. You, unfortunately, are not getting any younger, but it turns out you can turn back the clock in terms of functionality, at least when it comes to our heart health. According to a CDC study, 70% of Americans have heart ages older than their actual age. On average, the heart age of men is 7.8 years older, and 5.4 years for women. Heart age is based on risk factors that you can and can not change. However, it’s never too late to make the changes that you can make and give your heart back a few more years. Your heart is a muscle, and just like any other muscle in your body, it needs to be worked out in order to remain strong. And engaging in regular physical activity, along with other healthy habits, can do just that. Here are a few tips on how to improve your heart health and keep your heart beat strong.
Engaging in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week is the most recommended routine for good heart health. However, if you can't go a full five days, anything is better than nothing. Find activities that you enjoy and get your body moving. Exercise doesn't have to be a punishment, and it doesn’t have to mean going to the gym regularly, either. As long as you get your heart racing and you get a little out of breath, activities like walking, dancing in your living room, bowling, or even housework will do. In addition, bodyweight exercises are a popular and effective form of fitness that can be done from anywhere without any equipment. Doing bodyweight exercises
can be an excellent alternative if you don’t have access to a gym or prefer to exercise at home. The benefits of bodyweight exercises include improved strength, flexibility, and endurance. Body weight exercises include push-ups, squats, lunges, and planks. Bodyweight exercises can also be modified to increase or decrease the intensity to make them possible, no matter your fitness level. To adjust the intensity of bodyweight exercises, you can slow them down, speed them up, increase reps, and even combine some variations. Incorporating bodyweight exercises into your fitness routine can be a convenient and effective way to better your heart health.
Get Quality Sleep
Getting enough quality sleep is essential for good heart health. A study
by medical researchers in South Korea (published online by Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology) found that young to middle-aged adults who slept for 7 hours each night had less calcium in their arteries than those who slept 5 hours or less. Those who slept more than 9 hours also showed an increase in calcium. Calcium is an indicator of fatty build-up, known as plaque, in your arteries. This can lead to blood clots and heart attacks. Sleeping less or excessively are both harmful to your heart. Poor sleep quality is also linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, which can cause heart disease. Ensure you get seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night to keep your heart healthy. Here are a few tips that you can follow to get a good night’s sleep naturally:
- Make sure that your room is cool, dark, and quiet.
- Do not exercise too close to bedtime.
- Reserve your bed for sleeping.
- Try not to bring work to the bed.
It is also not advisable to watch TV or use your phone in bed. You can snack before bedtime, as it is harder to fall asleep on an empty stomach. Avoid eating too much just before trying to sleep, as even that will prevent you from falling asleep. Say no to alcohol, caffeine, and acidic foods close to bedtime. Follow sleep rituals consistently. Your bedtime routine will help you unwind and destress.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
If the heart doesn't get enough oxygen, it can start to die. Scar tissue and arterial wall damage from high blood pressure can make it harder for blood and oxygen to reach and leave the heart. To keep within a good blood pressure range, you can cut back on salt, limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks a day, manage your stress, and get regular exercise. You should get your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. If making these types of changes don't help, speak to your doctor about management medication.
Eat A Healthy Diet
When you consume healthy foods, you will feel better, have more energy, and your cardiovascular system will perform at its peak. Healthy eating includes a lot of plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, and whole grains, like brown rice and other unrefined carbs, like bananas. Eating fewer refined carbs and processed foods, like white bread, pasta, crackers, and cookies, will also help you maintain healthy glucose levels.
Reduce Your Intake of Saturated Fats
A diet high in saturated fats can lead to an increase in the amount of “bad” cholesterol found in your blood. This can cause plaque in the arteries and heart, which can be harmful because the heart will have to work harder than it should be. The majority of "bad" cholesterol originates from saturated and trans fats, which can be found in red meat, certain dairy products, fried and processed foods, and anything else that has a high-fat content. Reducing your consumption of these products and staying away from ingredients like “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated,” which is code for types of trans fats, can keep your cholesterol down and your heart healthy.
There is a close connection between diabetes and heart disease. High blood sugar has been proven to destroy arteries over time and increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Other risks include medical conditions, such as PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome), being pregnant, overweight, or being 45 and older). You can also have borderline high blood sugar, which is called prediabetes. Developing prediabetes is a significant warning sign for you to take action and make some major lifestyle changes. You can stop being prediabetic, but once you develop Type II diabetes, your pancreas is often far too damaged for it to ever fully heal again. That is why it’s important to continuously monitor your lifestyle, which mainly includes your diet and exercise. One simple adjustment is substituting processed carbs for nutritious fiber-rich grains, like brown rice. Eating can still be fun and enjoyable. Making simple substitutions can expand your palette and keep you healthy. If you’re not sure where or how to start, speak to your physician, who can help you to develop a strategy that works for you.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. The nicotine in tobacco and the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke both contribute to poor health. The carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, so your heart is forced to work harder and work at less than full capacity. If you are having problems kicking the habit, speak to your primary care physician about options such as nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medications that can help you to quit smoking. Having a support system is imperative, so find support through local programs or online communities.
Learn To Manage Stress
Finding healthy ways to manage stress is essential to leading a better and healthier lifestyle. Prolonged exposure to stress can harm your heart health as it is a constant stream of stress hormones. Find ways to decompress every day, like exercising, meditating, taking deep breaths, spending time in nature, or talking to a therapist or counselor.
Consuming enough water every day is essential for maintaining overall good health, including that of your heart. Studies have shown that maintaining proper hydration can help reduce the risk of developing various heart issues. Dehydration can also increase blood pressure, so aim to consume at least 8 cups (64 ounces) of water every day and drink even more in the Summer and during exercising.
Get Regular Check-Ups
Regular check-ups with your doctor are important for detecting and managing any risk factors for heart disease that may come up. Be sure to continue to check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. If you have a family history of heart disease or any other unchangeable risk factors, your doctor may recommend check-ups more frequently and earlier screenings for certain conditions.
Taking care of your heart health is crucial for your overall well-being, and it's never too late to make changes that can improve it. By making simple lifestyle changes, like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your heart age. If you have any serious concerns, talk to a healthcare provider that specializes in heart health. They can provide resources and support to help you create a personalized plan that works for you and gets you closer to reaching your heart health goals. No matter your personal challenges, there is always a path to health. Each day is a fresh start to live your healthiest life and give back your heart a few years.