Heart Health and Prevention

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Over the course of your lifetime, your heart may beat more than 2.5 billion times, pushing life-sustaining, oxygen-rich blood to all the body’s tissues. The heart’s function supports every other vital organ and cell, from the neurons of the brain to the hair follicles of the skin.

To learn how to keep your heart healthy, follow these guidelines.

How to Have a Healthy Heart by Eating Right

Heart disease prevention starts with the food you eat. Wholesome foods nourish the heart, while fatty or salty foods can cause heart disease to develop. The optimum heart-healthy diet includes:

  • 4 to 5 servings each day of fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of colors. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables based on color helps ensure you consume an array of essential micronutrients and fiber while you avoid eating too much beige, processed food.

  • 3 to 6 servings of whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, oatmeal, popcorn, or baked goods made from the whole kernel of grain. Whole grains provide valuable fiber that helps remove substances like cholesterol from your blood.

  • 1 to 2 servings of protein each day. Vegetarians can get adequate amounts of protein from eating eggs, beans, and legumes, while carnivores should choose low-fat meat sources like chicken and fish. Nuts and seeds count as protein, too.

  • 3 servings of dairy each day. Dairy products provide calcium, which the heart uses for muscle contractions. Fat-free or low-fat dairy products are among the most heart healthy foods around. Calcium helps keep your bones strong too.

  • No more than 3 tablespoons of healthy fats each day, including olive, canola, peanut, safflower, or sesame oils. Fats help you feel full and provide your taste buds with satisfaction, so don’t avoid them entirely.

  • Not too much salt. While sodium is essential for cellular function, too much of it can cause fluid retention and make it difficult for the heart to do its job. Opt for low-sodium varieties of canned or frozen vegetables, and be gentle when applying the salt shaker to home-cooked meals.

  • Few sugary beverages or snacks. Consuming too much sugar can promote insulin resistance that leads to heart disease. Instead, drink plenty of water and feel free to drop in lemon or cucumber slices for flavor. Opt for fresh fruit instead of a candy bar to satisfy that sweet tooth.

How to Improve Heart Health With Activity

Physical activity not only benefits your heart, but it promotes vascular health. Just 30 minutes a day, five days a week can improve your cardiovascular fitness. To make it easier to engage in regular activities for heart disease prevention, try these hacks:

  • Just walk. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Walking is a highly beneficial exercise for heart health, and it enables you to get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air.

  • Do something fun instead of ‘exercising.’ The list of potential activities that count as exercise is long and varied, so pick something you enjoy doing but maybe don’t view as exercise. Try dancing in your living room to a favorite song, going for a nature hike, or joining a recreational sports league. Anything that gets your blood pumping over a sustained period of time is considered exercise. It doesn’t have to be tedious. Brush up on your navigational skills and try orienteering—a timed activity using a map and a compass to get from point to point on a course.

  • Seize everyday opportunities for activity. Park far away from the entrance to the grocery store. Take the stairs instead of the elevators. Do yoga and lift weights while you watch TV in the evening. Each day provides ample opportunities to engage in physical activity. Grab them all.

  • Pack a gym bag and take it with you everywhere. You’ll have no excuse for not taking that walk or going for a run if you always have a gym bag in the car packed with shoes, workout clothes, and towels.

Ditch the Bad Habits

In addition to eating delicious foods and engaging in fun physical activities, you need to ditch a few unhealthy habits in order to keep your heart well too.

  • Quit smoking. It’s not only bad for your heart and blood vessels, it causes many types of cancer. For help quitting, visit Smokefree.gov.

  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Binge drinking or chronic alcohol consumption both can contribute to heart disease. A glass of red wine every now and then is one thing, but don’t overdo it.

  • Stop overeating. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for good heart health. If you need help to lose weight, talk with your doctor.

By using these healthy heart tips, you reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Plus, you’ll keep your heart beating strong for all of those 2.5 billion beats required over a lifetime.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Nov 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Your Guide to a Healthy Heart. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/healthyheart.pdf

  2. Lower heart disease risk. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/lower-risk/index.htm

  3. Healthy for Good. American Heart Association. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/

  4. Amazing Heart Facts. NOVA Online. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/heart/heartfacts.html

  5. Orienteering USA. https://orienteeringusa.org/home

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