5 tips for heart health

September 28, 2021

About 80 percent of all cardiovascular diseases are preventable. But between hectic work schedules, social events, and daily life, it’s easy to lose track of your health and get stuck in a rut. The good news is that simple changes, like adding in a morning walk or swapping sparkling water for soda, can lead to meaningful health benefits.

The key is starting small. You don’t have to overhaul your life overnight. Even the simplest habit like going to bed at the same time every night can help set you on the right path.

A little goes a long way

  • People who rarely consume sugary drinks have a 20 percent lower risk of heart attack than those who average one per day.
  • Lowering your systolic blood pressure by even just 10 points can lower your stroke risk by 27 percent.
  • Those who sleep 6 or more hours per night have a 20 percent lower risk of heart attack than those who don't.

Tips for building new healthy habits

Habits form when we do something so many times it becomes automatic. That’s why it can be so hard to break a habit or form a new one. But it’s totally possible – habit building just takes a lot of patience and time. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pick one thing and be very specific. For example, drink five glasses of water a day, do a plank for one minute every morning, cook vegetarian two nights out of the week, etc.
  • Attach it to an existing routine. Studies show that incorporating a new habit into a routine you already have makes it easier to follow through. For example, if you want to drink more water, try drinking a full glass of water before having your morning coffee.
  • Reward yourself. For all of you pet parents out there, you know that helping your pet form new behaviors requires a lot of treats and love. Humans aren’t so different. Try something like making a reservation at a new restaurant that you only get to attend if you meet your health goal for the week or month.

Five habits for heart health

1. Mix up your food choices.

Choosing healthier foods can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Nearly half of all diabetes, heart disease, and stroke deaths are linked to diets high in salt or processed meat. Dropping your sodium intake to 1,500 mg/day, could decrease your blood pressure by 25.6% and reduce your risk of stroke by 14%. With that in mind, here are a few food-related goals to consider:

  • Commit to limiting your salt to ¼ teaspoon when you cook.
  • Limit red meat to twice per week.
  • Use avocado oil instead of olive or canola oil.
  • Choose sparkling water instead of soda.
  • The average beer has about 250 calories and a glass of wine 120 calories. Consider skipping beer or wine for weekday dinners and limiting it to weekends instead.

2. If you smoke, make a quit-plan.

Smoking is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths from cardiovascular disease. Even casual or “intermittent” smoking makes a difference. Intermittent smoking is associated with heart disease, aneurysms, lung cancer, and poor sperm function. If you smoke, even a little bit, consider making a quit plan. That could include:

  • Setting a quit date
  • Telling friends and family about your plan
  • Drinking a glass of milk every time you are tempted to smoke (dairy makes cigarettes taste bad).  

3. Get moving in any way that works for you.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) every week. It doesn’t have to be every day and, if your current activity level is low, it also doesn’t have to happen overnight. You might try:

  • 7 minute workout (we recommend this one!)
  • Walking for 20 minutes every morning or during your lunch break
  • Playing Wii with your kids (JustDance or WiiTennis are both great options!)
  • Doing ten minutes of yoga every night before bed (Yoga with Adrien is great for beginners)

4. Face your sleep issues.

If you experience difficulty sleeping, this isn’t news to you: not getting enough sleep comes with health costs. It weakens your immune system and increases the likelihood of chronic conditions like depression, diabetes, and heart disease. This is especially true for people with sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can increase your risk of dying from heart disease five fold, according to a Harvard Medical School study.

Despite these risks, about 1 in 3 Americans don’t get the recommended amount of sleep (at least 7 hours) on a regular basis. The good news is that because sleep is a challenge for so many people, there’s a lot of research about how to get a good night’s sleep. And it starts with these habits:

  • Try stretching every night before bed. Meditative movement can improve both quality and length of sleep.
  • Wake up at the same time every morning. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends) helps strengthen our sleep schedule and makes it easier to fall and stay asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
  • Stop drinking alcohol at least three hours before bed.

5. Brush your teeth.

Oral hygiene and heart health are closely related. A recent study found that gum (peridontal) disease increases your risk for cardiac disease.  Another study found that compared to those who brush once per day, those who brushed twice a day had a 3% reduced risk for diabetes and those who brushed three times per day had an 8% reduced risk. Not everyone loves the dentist, but going to routine cleanings can help catch issues before they develop into bigger problems. Need help remembering to brush and floss?

  • Put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror with a reminder to brush and floss.
  • Set floss on your desk or somewhere you spend a lot of time.
  • Try flossing while doing something passive like watching TV.

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