When it comes to your heart health, what you do and don't do truly makes a difference. That's because lifestyle choices — like smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise — can be far more dangerous than hereditary factors. Here's a step-by-step plan that will help you make smart choices and get your ticker in tip-top shape.
- Pump your heart
For optimal health, you'll need to engage in enough physical activity to burn between 3,500 and 6,500 calories a week (roughly 500 to 950 per day). Most of that calorie loss comes from everyday tasks, but science shows that you'll also need about 60 minutes a week of stamina training. Achieve this by doing at least three 20-minute cardio workouts a week and adding strength training into your exercise routine.
- Know your numbers
We're talking the big three — cholesterol,blood pressure, and blood sugar — plus, two more you should probably know: homocysteine and C-reactive protein. Consider these numbers a stock ticker for your heart. They’ll tell you how you're doing, and when you need to do more. When you have them measured, make sure your doctor also tells you what your goal levels should be and what you can do to get there. Getting more active, losing weight, and making smart food choices can help get these numbers in a healthy range.
- Get happy
There are lots of reasons to be happy, including your heart health. Negative emotions like anger and hostility can raise blood pressure. People with depression are four times more likely to have a heart attack. And while we don't understand how emotional stress causes physical stress, we do know there's a powerful connection. To get yourself in a better mindset, adopt a more positive outlook and manage daily stressors.
- Eat your heart out
When making your grocery list, follow this simple rule of thumb: opt for foods with healthful fats, fiber, and good-for-you nutrients like flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals. Nix the salty, sugary, saturated-fat-laden or processed stuff.
- Learn from your relatives
Even though you have a lot of control over your own heart-healthy destiny, a family history of heart disease does raise your risk significantly. So, along with talking to your doctor about a schedule of heart screenings, talk about your family health history too. And if mom, dad or a sibling develops heart disease, you'll want to be extra vigilant about screenings and adopting heart-smart habits.
- Consider medication or supplements
Certain nutrients, supplements, and occasional medications can work preventive wonders for your heart, including:
- Aspirin:Taking aspirin regularly may reduce the incidence of heart attack by making blood platelets less sticky and decreasing arterial inflammation. But it only makes sense for men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 40. And even then, check with your doctor first, because aspirin can have side effects like stomach irritation and bleeding.
- A multivitamin:Your multivitamin is chock-full of heart-healthy micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D.
- Folate:This B vitamin lowers homocysteine to healthy levels. Since folate from food is only partially absorbed by your body, take a 400-microgram (folic acid) supplement. However, make sure you're also getting enough B6 and B12, because folate can mask a deficiency in these vitamins.
- Schedule sleep
If you don't snooze six to eight hours a night, you increase arterial aging and raise your risk of a heart attack. Inadequate sleep will also cause you to release less serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in your brain. The result: You may seek out other, less healthful ways to feel good, like noshing on sugary foods or tipping too many martinis.