When you want to describe someone as a good person you say they have “a good heart.” During an accident, when we check to see if someone is okay, we check their heartbeat. When we feel incredible sadness, we say our hearts are broken. Our condition can be defined by the condition of our hearts and nowhere is that truer than in examining our overall health.
Heart disease is the number one killer in America. By fighting back against the contributors to heart disease, we build ourselves into being healthier people overall. In order to do that, we’ve prepared a list of seven habits that can contribute to a healthier heart and, by extension, a healthier life.
Move every day
Just like any muscle, the heart requires exercise - and doing that means getting up and moving around. Living an active lifestyle is more than just committing getting up and getting to the gym for 30 minutes a day if you are sitting or lying down the remaining 23½ hours. Instead (or in addition to), it’s recommended you take small steps to increase your body’s overall activity over the entire day. So, park in the parking spot furthest away from the grocery store entrance, or opt to take the stairs over the escalator. Instead of hunching over your phone during lunch, listen to a podcast on your headphones while walking around the block. Walk the dog around the neighborhood instead of letting him out in the fenced-in backyard. In the fall of 2018, the Journal of American Medical Associations recommended adults get at least 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise a week—averaging 20-40 minutes a day. Breaking up those 40 minutes into 10 minutes intervals over the course of the day makes that goal much more achievable.
Make the healthier eating choice
When exercise makes it onto a list like this, chances are diet is not far behind it. But making better decisions about what we eat doesn’t have to mean sticking to a strict and taxing diet - in fact, those diets can be more difficult to stick with because of the unrealistic goals they put upon their practitioners. Instead, try phase unhealthier items out of your diet while introducing healthier choices little by little. For example, take the bag of cookies out of the shopping cart this weekend and replace it with a bunch of grapes, replacing that as your go-to after dinner snack. Things you are going to want to eliminate are foods with trans fat content, high levels of salt, processed grains, and sugary beverages. Foods you want to include more of are fibrous fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice, and lean proteins like poultry and fish.
Brush and floss twice daily
One contributor to an unhealthy heart that may not be immediately obvious is gum disease. Gum disease can cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to more serious issues for your heart later down the line. By keeping on top of your dental hygiene, you can reduce the chances of inflammation in your mouth, which could pay off for your heart in the long run.
Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
Maybe not necessarily a habit to begin, but a habit to break - smoking is a major contributing cause to the development of cardiovascular disease according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even proximity to second-hand smoke can increase your chances of developing heart disease. If you’re not a smoker, then you’re chances are better already—if you are a smoker, then 2019 can be your time to finally quit. There are more resources out there than ever to try to kick the habit - from nicotine supplements to prescription treatments to support groups. If you’ve tried before but haven’t been able to stick to it, maybe now is the time to ask your doctor once again.
Meet up with your friends
Studies have shown a link to social isolation and heart disease. Those of us who had fewer social connections were more likely to develop some cardiovascular issues. While more research likely needs to be done in this field, it is an easy way to reduce the risk factors at play when talking about your heart health. Besides, increasing the amount of time spent with friends can help contribute to other factors on the list. If you’re spending your lunch every day walking around the block, discuss meeting up with a friend to accomplish that together. If you’re going to the farmer’s market to introduce some more vegetables into your diet, bring a friend and swap recipes. If you find it difficult to meet people for whatever reason, look into joining a hobby club or volunteer for causes that you support.
Get enough sleep
Research has shown that seven to eight hours of sleep a night is the ideal amount for most people, and the receiving less (or much more) than that can have detrimental effects on your overall heart health. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep is linked to high blood pressure, Type-2 diabetes, and obesity—all factors that can increase one’s likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.
Schedule regular check-ups
While nobody knows your body better than you do, nobody is more likely to translate what your body is trying to say than your doctor. By scheduling regular check-ups, you will provide your doctor with a baseline for your health, and be able to examine trends over time that may point to risk factors in developing heart disease. Regular doctor’s visits can also assist in building some of the other positive habits (or kicking that one nasty one) on this list. We hope that you will take time in 2019 to meet with your medical professional, and begin taking steps towards maintaining a healthier, happy heart.