Small changes can have a big impact when it comes to reducing your risk for heart disease.
Many of us may know someone who has struggled with heart disease (also known as cardiovascular disease or CVD), as it is a condition that affects millions of adults in the United States. The good news is that it's preventable, and there are so many easy ways to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk.
Instead of attempting a complete overhaul, try making small changes that can have a big impact. Simple lifestyle adjustments can really add up over time and are often easier to stick with than large, lofty goals. Here are six ideas for how to keep the heart healthy—and improve your overall health—that you can keep up with all year long.
Break up Your Exercise into Manageable Chunks
Even a small amount of aerobic exercise each day can go a long way to prevent heart disease. You don't need to create an intense exercise routine like running five miles a day or pumping thirty-pound weights in the gym. Doing things you enjoy such as dancing, gardening, or walking your dog are effective ways to reduce your risk for CVD. If you break up your exercise throughout the day, you will hit thirty minutes before you even know it.
Make Simple Swaps
More than one-third of American adults are overweight. Excess weight, especially around your middle, increases your risk of heart disease, as well as the risk of diabetes and other health issues. While sometimes effective, a diet overhaul isn't strictly necessary to lose weight. Cutting just 100 calories per day from your diet is as simple as swapping a bag of chips for an apple. If every American committed to this change for three years, more than 57 million potentially fatal cases of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes could be prevented.
Add Fiber to your Diet
Fiber does more than regulate digestion. It helps to keep blood sugar levels steady, combats "bad" cholesterol, and may help lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The easy fix for more fiber? Eat more nuts! They also boast heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats (the good kind), and l-arginine, which may make your artery walls less prone to dangerous clots. They are best eaten in moderation, as nuts can be high in calories. Getting more of these in your diet is as simple as stocking up on your favorite brand, like Wonderful Pistachios, and stashing them in your car, your bag, at your desk, or wherever that 4 pm snack attack usually hits.
Another great way to pack in some extra fiber is to reach for it first thing in the morning. Try adding dried prunes to your favorite instant oatmeal, or pour yourself a bowl of fiber-rich cereal with low-fat milk and get an added calcium boost.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women under 50 years of age should aim to get around 25 grams of fiber every day, and men should aim for 38. For women 51 and older, 21 grams is recommended, and men should try to hit 30 grams daily. If you're worried that you aren't hitting your daily requirements through diet alone, talk to your doctor about whether fiber supplements are right for you.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
According to the Mayo Clinic, a lack of sleep can put people at a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night. If you're having trouble falling asleep, try:
- Sticking to a routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help tell your brain that it's time to go to sleep.
- Making your room dark and quiet or using an eye mask.
- Eating a lighter meal for dinner or eating earlier prior to your usual bedtime.
With our busy, overscheduled lives, periods of stress are inevitable. Too much stress can contribute to a variety of health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. When you feel stress coming on, remember to take a deep breath. According to Harvard Medical School, deep, slow breathing is the oldest and best-known technique to decrease stress.
Add the Right Supplements
Supplementing a healthy diet with the right nutrients can help you keep your heart health on track, and it's an easy change to make. It's important to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements, so schedule an appointment to talk about your diet and what you think you might be missing. Here are some heart-healthy additions to keep in mind:
- Fish Oil. Fish oil is a good source of the Omega-3 fatty acids which may help lower triglycerides, fight plaque buildup in your arteries, and slightly lower your blood pressure. If you don't eat fish, ask your physician if a supplement may be right for you.
- Magnesium. Magnesium may help lower your blood pressure and is naturally found in heart-healthy foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and leafy green vegetables. Check with your doctor to determine whether you're at risk of a magnesium deficiency, and whether or not you should add a magnesium supplement to your diet.
- Multivitamins. Many adults do not get enough vitamins and minerals through the foods they eat. These nutrients have many potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Talk to your doctor about supplementing your diet with a multivitamin to make sure you are getting the nutrition you need.
Heart disease is often preventable. These simple steps can keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk.
By Joelle Klein
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Heart Disease Fact Sheet
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Five Minutes or Less Weekly Health Tip: Active
Mayo Clinic, Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical
Mayo Clinic, Strategies to Prevent Heart Disease
Harvard Health, Stress Raising Your Blood Pressure? Take a Deep Breath
National Institute of Health, Overweight and Obesity Statistics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Small Steps/Big Difference
Mayo Clinic, Eating Nuts for Heart Health
Mayo Clinic, Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
American Academy of Family Physicians, Dietary supplements: What you need to know
American Heart Association, Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
American Heart Association, Magnesium