How to Maintain a Healthy Heart
February is American Heart Month. It is estimated that about 62 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. And in spite of all the advances made over the past few years in education and treatments, it remains the leading cause of death in the world. And many of these deaths are preventable – at least 200,000 people in the United States could have stayed alive with proper preventative care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In honor of American Heart Month, we’d like to take a look at some of the ways you can help improve your heart health. Even if you’re currently living with heart disease, there are many things you can do to improve your odds of living a long and healthy life.
First, if you smoke, quit. According to the National Institutes for Health, doing so may reduce your risk by 50 percent. Here are a few more ways to help you reduce your risk:
Maintain a healthy weight
According to the National Institutes of Health, being overweight can greatly raise your risk of coronary heart disease. Even losing as little as five to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk of both heart attack and stroke. Don’t worry about finding the right type of diet – a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that it’s cutting calories that is the key to losing weight. Of course it also pays to …
Break a sweat
Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve heart health. It helps in a number of ways. First, it strengthens the heart, making it easier to pump blood through the body with less strain. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can also reduce cholesterol, another risk factor. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.
Pay attention to nutrition
A healthy diet can go a long way in reducing your risk for heart disease. According to a study conducted by the American College of Cardiology, people who followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease. A Mediterranean diet focuses on eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish and seafood instead of red and processed meats. This healthy diet also calls for using healthy fats like olive oil and herbs and spices instead of salt.
Get more sleep
Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of heart disease in a number of ways. First, it can lead to weight gain. A lack of sleep can hinder the ability of the frontal lobe of your brain – which governs decision-making and impulse control – to perform at its best. Additionally, when you’re tired, the brain starts seeking out something to make it feel better, making it harder to resist food cravings. Also, a South Korean study discovered that adults who sleep five or fewer hours a day have 50 percent more calcium in their coronary arteries than those who slept seven hours a day. Calcium buildup is a warning sign for potential heart disease.
According to Harvard Health Publications, constant stress can increase risk factors such as high blood pressure and the formation of arterial plaque that can force the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Stress can also lead to overeating, smoking and other habits that increase your risk factors. One of the easiest ways to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxing the body, is deep breathing. Breathe in through your nostrils until your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Doing this for as little as two minutes can have a profound effect on your body’s ability to relax.
Keep a positive attitude
A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego showed that heart patients who had higher levels of gratitude had better moods, higher quality sleep, less fatigue and less inflammation, a symptom that worsens with the progression of heart disease. Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study, concluded that “it seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart.” Additionally, the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that people who express optimism and who generally exude positive psychological well-being have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.