Your heart is the center of your cardiovascular system. It is involved in many of the daily functions that bring your body to life. So having a healthy heart is vital to your overall health. Two of the simplest yet most important ways to help your heart health are through diet and exercise.
The foods you eat can affect your weight, your hormones, and the health of your organs, including your heart. Eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Keeping your heart healthy by making healthier food choices isn’t as hard as it sounds! Just follow these tips for a heart-healthy diet.
A heart-healthy diet limits some nutrients. These include:
Sodium. Flavor foods with spices or no-salt seasonings instead of salt. Watch out for prepackaged foods, sauces, canned foods, and processed foods. They can all contain a high amount of sodium.
Saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in fatty meats, poultry skin, whole-milk dairy, butter, lard, and coconut and palm oils. Tans fats are found in some desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarines, and coffee creamers. Look for the words partially hydrogenated oil on the food label.
Added sugar. Sweetened drinks, snacks, and sweet treats are the main source of added sugars in the United States. These include sodas, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, cakes, pies, ice cream, candy, syrups, and jellies. Limit these types of foods and drinks.
Alcohol. Limit your intake of alcohol. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day. Women should have no more than 1 drink per day. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and cause you to gain weight. It can also contribute to or worsen heart failure in some people.
Talk to your family doctor about your ideal weight, because every person is different. If you’re overweight, the extra pounds put extra stress on your heart. Losing weight can help your heart stay healthy. Remember that losing just 10% of your body weight will reduce your risks for diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise makes your heart stronger. This helps it pump more blood with each heartbeat. This delivers more oxygen to your body. With more oxygen, your body functions more efficiently.
Exercise can also lower blood pressure. It reduces your risk of heart disease and reduces levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Bad cholesterol can clog the arteries and can cause a heart attack. At the same time, exercise can raise levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). HDL helps protect against a heart attack by carrying fatty deposits out of the arteries.
When combined with a healthy diet, exercise can speed up weight loss. Regular exercise builds lean muscle, which burns more calories than fat. This helps you burn calories faster, even when you’re sitting still.
Aerobic exercise causes you to breathe more deeply. It makes your heart work harder to pump blood. Aerobic exercise also raises your heart rate (which burns calories). Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, running, dancing, swimming, and bicycling.
If you haven’t been exercising, try to work up to 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Your doctor may recommend a different exercise regimen based on your health. Alternate exercise days with rest days or days you do a very different type of exercise. This will help prevent injuries.
There are lots of ways to raise your heart rate during your regular day. Some examples include:
Diet and exercise are an important part of your heart health. If you don’t eat a good diet and you don’t exercise, you are at increased risk of developing health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. These increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.