About 6.5 million Americans are living with heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise play a big role in who gets heart disease. But other health conditions play a role too. Heart disease is more common in people with certain long-term medical issues such as diabetes, psoriatic arthritis, or lupus. Plus, some cancer medications can damage your heart muscle.
Why improve heart health?
Improving your heart health can go a long way toward making you feel better and having more energy. In addition, many heart-healthy habits reduce the risk of other diseases, such as cancer and stroke. Looking and feeling better may be a welcome outcome of maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking, 2 of the lifestyle changes that help your heart.
Monitoring conditions and medications
There are risk factors for heart disease that we can’t control. This includes certain genes, conditions we are born with, or infections we may get. The good news is that there are many areas where we do have control. Our daily habits have a major impact on our hearts. That means we have the power to improve our heart health with several different lifestyle choices. Even small changes can help.
One way to keep your heart as healthy as possible is to manage your drugs and medical conditions. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes pose major risks for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range reduces strain on all of your blood vessels, your heart, and your kidneys. Likewise, controlling your blood sugar and cholesterol is important for heart health.
Monitoring these conditions, staying in touch with your doctor, and taking your drugs regularly are important for protecting your heart. This can be challenging, especially if you are feeling depressed or if you experience unpleasant side effects. Seeking social support and communicating with your healthcare team can help.
Choose healthy food and drinks
Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and other high-fiber foods contributes to heart health. Choosing healthy foods also helps you maintain your weight, which is another key factor in protecting your heart.
Other ideas for making healthy food choices include:
- Limiting sweetened drinks, cured meats or lunch meats, processed foods, added sugars, full-fat milk and cheese, eggs, and tropical oils like palm and coconut.
- Avoiding trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils, which can be found in fried foods and commercially prepared baked goods.
- Choosing unsaturated oils, like olive oil and avocado oil.
- Reading labels to watch for hidden sodium, saturated fats, and added sugar.
- Cooking at home more often.
Other helpful tips
Walking, weight training, making it a point to get up and move throughout the day, and setting goals that motivate you to keep working harder can also be of help. Being physically active can provide a big boost. Even small amounts of physical activity can help your heart. This includes housekeeping and gardening. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of intense activity spread throughout the week.
Quitting smoking is another extremely important action to take and the benefits are profound and happen quickly. Smoking is responsible for one-third of the deaths caused by heart disease. But within 1 year of quitting, your risk of heart disease and cancer goes down by half. Smoking is addictive, so it can be challenging to quit. But more than 1 million people successfully quit each year. The benefits improve more than your heart health, because quitting reduces the risk of cancer, makes it easier to be physically active, and protects your loved ones from the health risks of second-hand smoke.