Because heart disease and strokes claim the lives of 17.3 million people each year, World Heart Day was founded in 2000 to help people around the world improve their heart health. This year, in honor of World Heart Day, we are sharing 10 tips on what you can do to improve your heart health.
- Stop smoking. Smokers have a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown smokers are 2 to 4 times more at risk of a stroke, among other serious health issues. Once you give up smoking, the risk of a heart attack reduces and after one year your heart disease risk is cut in half.
- Get active. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day. By getting your heart pumping, you will push blood effectively throughout your body, helping cells get the necessary oxygen they need.
- Manage your stress. Stress can have a negative impact on your heart as well as body. Chronic stress puts your body in high alert, speeding up your heart rate and making your blood pressure rise. Find ways to de-stress through positive thinking, meditation, exercise, unplugging, or whatever helps you relax.
- Know your heart numbers. Take preventative steps in your heart health by knowing your HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, blood pressure, weight, and BMI (body mass index) numbers. If you know where you stand, in terms of health, you can begin to make better choices for a longer, healthier life.
- Reduce salt intake. Lower your blood pressure through reducing your daily salt intake. Cook with herbs instead of salt and take a moment to read food labels to see exactly how much sodium is in prepared foods (the numbers may surprise you). Health professionals suggest shooting for less than 2.3 grams (about a teaspoon) of salt per day.
- Meditation. Regardless what meditation technique you use, meditation can be an excellent practice for calming your mind and reducing stress. Take 5-10 minutes to close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and allow the stress of the moment to pass.
- Eat fish. Fish, such as salmon and anchovies, is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function. If you aren’t a fish eater, you can also get your recommended intake of omega-3’s in vegetable oils, nuts (walnuts in particular), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.
- Book a date night or an evening out with friends. Close relationships can have a positive effect not only on our mental state, but on our overall health. People with stronger connections to friends, family, or their community have fewer cardiovascular problems and tend to feel more relaxed and at peace. However, there are some friendships that can be a great source of stress so it is important to chose your friends carefully.
- Cut back on sugar. Sugar is highly addictive and can cause heart attacks, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and is the leading cause of liver failure in the United States. Each year the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar. Protect your heart and improve your health by cutting down on your sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 5 to 7.5% of added sugar to our daily diet.
- Get your sleep in. People who get less than 7 hours of sleep each night are more at risk of having higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can lead to plaque build up in the arteries. Improve your sleep by avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and developing a wind down period right before bed. This could include taking a bath, reading a relaxing book, or meditating before you go to sleep.
There are many ways to live a heart healthy life. Encourage others to join you in setting heart specific goals and build a support group where everyone can improve their health.