5 Easy Lifestyle Tips for a Healthy Heart

“Protecting your heart’s health” might not top your daily to-do list, but it should. Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S.—and heart attacks happen about every 40 seconds in this country, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). You may not have trouble now, but “waiting until you have symptoms to worry about heart disease may be too late,” says Erin Michos, MD, MHS, associate director of preventive cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Making changes to your everyday — from exercise to diet to — can help prevent or delay the onset of cardiovascular disease (CVD), says Dr. Michos. Even those with a strong family history of heart disease can potentially cut their risk almost in half with a healthy lifestyle, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study.

Show your heart some love with these tips:

  1. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables
    The antioxidants and fiber can help reduce CVD risk, says Dr. Michos. The rest of your heart-healthy plate should include lean protein, such as skinless poultry, fish, beans, and nuts, and whole grains. Skimp on refined carbs, like white bread as well as cholesterol-raising saturated and trans fats. Nearly half of all CVD deaths are linked to poor dietary choices, according to a JAMA study.
  2. Cut out soda
    Too much added sugar ups the risk of dying from CVD, according to a JAMA study. (It’s also connected to heart-troubling obesity, cholesterol abnormalities, and diabetes.) Regular soda, revealed the study, is Americans’ biggest source of added sugar (it has about 9 teaspoons per can), followed by cakey desserts. The AHA recommends a daily max of 6 teaspoons for women, 9 for men.
  3. Rely on homemade foods
    Excessive sodium leads to heart-straining high blood pressure. About 77% percent of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, prepared, and restaurant food, according to the AHA. Start by searching recipes for low-sodium soups, salad dressings, and taco seasoning.
  4. Avoid smoking — and smokers
    Smoking can make exercising more physically challenging, increase the risk of blot clots, and lower levels of good cholesterol. Steer clear of secondhand smoke too, which also raises your chance of CVD. Know your numbers After your physical, record your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, weight, and Body Mass Index (BMI), suggests Dr. Michos. Tracking these numbers that affect heart health can detect changes before they spiral.
  5. Schedule workouts
    “Exercise is the single best prescription I can give patients,” says Dr. Michos. “It manages blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.” Be sure to ink it in: “Once exercise becomes habit, you’ll be more likely to stick with it,” she says. Block out at least 30 minutes for exercise, five times a week.
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