Four Lifestyle Habits that Support Heart Health
February is Heart Health Month – a great time to raise awareness on how important cardiovascular health is to our overall well-being and longevity. In addition to improving our quality of life, a heart healthy routine can reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. Let’s take a look at four tips for creating lifestyle habits that support heart health.
Tip #1: Get to Know Your Risk Factors
Almost half of Americans have two or more cardiovascular risk factors that exponentially multiply the chances of suffering from heart disease1. Lack of sleep and being overweight are the most frequent risk factors, but these are not the only ones. Keeping hypertension, blood cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and smoking at bay are key to helping prevent heart disease. While we are unable to do anything about other risk factors like age or family history, we have a lot more control over our lifestyle choices and can positively affect our heart health with even just a few healthy habits.
Tip #2: Get Moving
Together with a healthy diet, physical exercise is the best way to keep our cardiovascular health in shape. Regular physical activity not only prevents heart disease, it can also improve the quality of life of those who already suffer from it. People who practice some physical activity regularly for 30 minutes, three times a week, considerably reduce their risk of suffering from heart disease. In fact, most international health agencies recommend being active for 150 minutes per week2. This amount of regular physical activity prevents being overweight and the diseases that develop from it (diabetes, heart attacks, hypertension, high cholesterol, among others). It also helps keep stress under control, which is another factor that can affect our heart health3.
Incorporating regular physical activity doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. For example, consider going for walks in your neighborhood or a nearby park. Or take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalators whenever you have a chance. Put on upbeat music you like and pull out your best dance moves at home. There are many ways to make your life active and get you moving! For more ideas on how to get active, check out these tips from the American Heart Association.
Tip #3: Eat Healthy
When trans fats, which are mainly found in processed products such as cookies, industrial pastries, precooked foods, snacks, and creams5, are consumed frequently, they can negatively affect our cardiovascular health by increasing total cholesterol levels, blood triglyceride levels, and inflammation6. And while the taste of salt is naturally appealing to our palates, excessive salt intake causes an increase in blood pressure that over time can lead to hypertension7. This disease is directly related to some coronary pathologies, since a hypertensive heart must work faster, which increases its demand and the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack).
A great way to reduce salt intake is to make the most of herbs and spices. Herbs and spices not only make our food taste better, their use also supports our health and well-being. They create rich flavors and bring together different ingredients to create balanced foods full of flavor while protecting from acute and chronic diseases8. See Donnie Yance’s blog for more information.
So, what is a heart-healthy diet? Eating healthy for your heart means a diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, avoiding added sugars and trans fats as much as possible, and limiting the intake of saturated fats in favour of unsaturated fats (fish, avocados, nuts, and olive oil, to name a few). These dietary habits are the basis of the Mediterranean Diet, which helps control hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol levels4. You can read more about the Mediterranean Diet in a previous post on our founder Donnie Yance’s blog, “Can Statins Be Avoided With Lifestyle Interventions? Part 1”.
Tip #4: Get Enough Rest
Getting the right amount of sleep our body needs is essential for optimal health9. This was revealed by a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, where it concluded that people who, in addition to leading healthy lifestyle habits such as regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet, also sleep a minimum of seven hours a day, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 65%. The same study estimated that in those people the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is reduced by 83% compared to those who do not follow any healthy lifestyle10. For tips on how to get healthy sleep, see Dr. Susan Saccomanno’s blog “Tools for Supporting Healthy Sleep”.
This month, take the opportunity to learn more about what you can do to prevent heart disease. Making a small change to achieve a healthier lifestyle can make a huge difference!
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Know Your Risk for Heart Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm
- Warburton DE, Bredin SS. Health benefits of physical activity: a systematic review of current systematic reviews. Curr Opin Cardiol. 2017 Sep;32(5):541-556. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28708630/
- Jackson EM. The Role of Exercise in Stress Management. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: May/June; 17(3): 14-19. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2013/05000/stress_relief__the_role_of_exercise_in_stress.6.asp
- Martinez-Gonzalez MA et al. Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Insights From the PREDIMED Study. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. Jul-Aug 2015;58(1):50-60. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25940230/
- Wanders AJ et al. Trans Fat Intake and Its Dietary Sources in General Populations Worldwide: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 5;9(8):840. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28783062/
- De Souza RJ et al. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ. 2015 Aug 11;351:h3978. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26268692/
- Feng JH et al. Salt Reduction to Prevent Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease: jACC State-of-the-Art Review. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Feb 18;75(6):632-647. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32057379/
- Jian TA. Health Benefits of Culinary Herbs and Spices. J AOAC Int. 2019 Mar 1;102(2):395-411. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30651162/
- Watson NF et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015 Jun 1;38(6):843-4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26039963/
- Hoevenaar-Blom M, et al. Sufficient sleep duration contributes to lower cardiovascular disease risk in addition to four traditional lifestyle factors: the MORGEN study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2014 Nov;21(11):1367-75. https://academic.oup.com/eurjpc/article/21/11/1367/5926038