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How To Have A Healthy Heart
Updated on January 31, 2024
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How To Have A Healthy Heart

There’s no secret to a healthy heart—all it takes is healthy living. This includes a eating healthy diet, exercising regularly, and leading a healthier lifestyle overall.

As simple as that sounds, a lot of people don’t know what it means to eat healthy. Many Americans are also unaware of how much exercise they need or what it takes to live healthy.

To make things easier for you, we’ve broken down these important lifestyle changes into a list of things you can do to have a healthier heart.

Our in-house nutritionist and dietitian, Dr. Rizza Mira, also gives additional insights on keeping your heart healthy.

How To Have A Healthy Heart 2

Summary

The first step to a healthy heart is to watch what you eat. You need to be mindful of the kinds of food you eat, their ingredients, and how much food and calories you consume.

10 Tips for Improving Your Heart Health

Here are some tips on taking better care of your heart.

1. Avoid overeating

“Overeating can cause short-term and long-term consequences to the body. Shortly after eating, your blood sugar levels may increase suddenly,” explains Dr. Mira.

Excessive blood sugar can cause plaque build-up in the blood vessels. It can decrease blood supply and oxygen to the heart, increasing your risk for heart attacks.1

Over time, the extra calories from overeating are stored as fat. This is reflected in high cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

You can avoid overeating by following these steps:

One way to portion meals is by using a small plate or bowl. This limits your serving size. Foods rich in fiber, proteins, and healthy fats are satiating and can make you less likely to overeat.

2. Try to maintain a healthy body weight

Having excess weight can contribute to heart disease and other health conditions. It can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.2

A study of over one million women shows that a higher body mass index increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease.3

The body mass index (BMI) is used to determine if you're obese, overweight, or have a healthy weight. It is calculated using your height and weight.

You should keep your body weight within the normal range (18.5 to 24.9) to lower your risk for heart problems. If you have excess weight, you need to bring it down to a normal level.

3. Limit your salt or sodium intake

Salt or sodium is an essential mineral for maintaining the balance of your body fluids. It also helps with muscle function and sending nerve impulses.4

Too much salt can elevate your blood pressure. Dr. Mira says this strains your heart:

“High blood pressure forces your heart to work extra hard just to pump blood to different organs,” she says. Here are some tips for reducing your salt intake:

  • Cut down the amount of salt you use to cook meals
  • Use more herbs and spices for flavor
  • Avoid canned and highly-processed foods
  • Eat more whole fresh foods

Check the nutrition label of any ingredient you use in food. Some examples are condiments, dry rubs, and seasoning. Make sure they have minimal amounts of sodium per serving.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Many fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients that are good for your heart. This is because they contain antioxidants and are usually high in potassium.

Antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene prevent fats and cholesterol from building up inside the walls of your arteries. They can slow down oxidative stress, which can later lead to atherosclerosis.

Potassium helps maintain normal sodium levels. It also lessens the tension in your blood vessels, which can help control high blood pressure.7

Atherosclerosis and high blood pressure (hypertension) increase your risk for heart disease.6,7

Adding more whole and fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet will help lower your risk of developing these conditions.

5. Add whole grains to your diet

Whole grains are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Fiber-rich foods have a low-calorie density and can help you manage your weight.8

Studies reveal that a high-fiber diet controls the body's inflammatory reaction. Inflammation is a risk factor for poor heart health.9 Some whole grain products you can add to your diet are:

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal (steel-cut or regular)
  • Whole-grain bread and pasta

6. Avoid unhealthy fats

Unhealthy fats like trans and saturated fats can raise your low-density lipoproteins or LDL levels. LDL is also known as bad cholesterol (You can read about the differences between bad vs. good cholesterol here).

High LDL levels can increase your risk for heart disease.10 It can also cause plaque to build up in your arteries over time, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke. 

You can switch to a heart-healthy diet by cutting down on unhealthy fats. Here are some simple ways to do it:

  • Eat less red meats like beef and pork
  • Consume more lean meats and plant-based proteins
  • Limit your use of butter and margarine
  • Avoid using tropical cooking oils (e.g., coconut or palm)
  • Use healthier oils for cooking (e.g., olive oil or canola oil)

Make sure to check the food labels of the ingredients you want to add to your meals. Avoid food items with high amounts of saturated and trans fats.

Summary

A healthy lifestyle can support a healthy diet and help you reach your fitness goals faster. This includes exercising regularly, limiting your alcohol intake, not smoking, and managing your stress.

7. Get regular exercise

Regular exercise can reduce your risk factors for heart disease. For example, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily can help lower your blood pressure.11

According to Dr. Mira, The American Heart Association recommends a total of 150 mins of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.

Other heart-healthy benefits of exercising include:11

  • Improves your blood flow
  • Lessens the need for your heart to pump more blood
  • It helps you maintain a healthy weight 
  • Decreases stress hormones that can strain your heart
  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol
  • Helps control triglycerides

Several studies have also shown that people who work out regularly are less likely to have a heart attack or other life-threatening heart conditions.12,13

8. Drink alcohol in moderation

Drinking small amounts of alcohol isn’t likely to harm your heart. However, research has linked excessive alcohol consumption to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.14

A heart condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy can happen when a person drinks too much alcohol over a long period. The muscles in your heart can become weaker.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or less daily for adult men, and one drink or less daily for women.15

9. Quit smoking

A cigarette has a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. When you breathe in cigarette smoke, these chemicals get into your blood and go to the rest of your body.

This can harm your heart and blood vessels by causing plaque to build up in the walls of your arteries and veins. It may also affect the transportation of oxygen to your heart and the rest of your body.16 

“Heart tissues that are deprived of oxygen are more prone to coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Mira.

Smoking is one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease.17 Your risk for heart disease may also increase if:

  • You smoke more than one cigarette in a day18
  • You’ve been smoking for many years
  • You’re a non-smoker exposed to secondhand smoke

If you're a smoker, quitting will help lower your risk and prevent your loved ones from inhaling secondhand smoke.

10. Learn to manage stress

When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Studies show that long-term stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels. This can increase your triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure.19 

Stress management can help you avoid these complications and promote heart health. Here are some things you can do to lower your stress levels:

  • Have regular physical activity like walking
  • Try doing relaxation exercises like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga
  • Maintain social connections with friends, family, and other people you trust
  • Get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Listen to music

Identifying what causes your stress can also help you better manage it. You can seek professional help for stress management or relaxation methods.

Summary

Heart disease is a serious health condition that can lead to death. Older adults over 45 years are usually at higher risk. However, you can prevent it by living a healthy life.

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What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease—also known as coronary artery disease or CAD—happens when one or more blood vessels supplying oxygen to the heart are blocked.

The blocked area loses oxygen. This causes chest pain and the inability of the heart to pump blood throughout the whole body.

Dr. Rizza Mira, our in-house medical reviewer.

It is currently the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.20

Who Is At Risk For Heart Disease?

Anyone can develop heart conditions regardless of gender and age. But women over 45 and men over 55 have a higher risk for heart disease.

Other risk factors of cardiovascular disease include:

  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes 
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese  
  • Not getting enough physical activity 
  • Not eating a healthy diet  

Your family history also affects how likely you are to get heart conditions.

The good news is that you can do many things to prevent heart disease.  You can avoid having heart disease or heart conditions by making healthy lifestyle choices.

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Updated on January 31, 2024
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21 sources cited
Updated on January 31, 2024
  1. Keep Your Heart Healthy.” U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

  2. Overeating and Your Heart. The Toll It Takes on Your Health.” Northwestern Medicine.

  3. Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  4. Body mass index and incident coronary heart disease in women: a population-based prospective study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  5. Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt.” American Heart Association.

  6. Vegetables and fruit.” Heart and Stroke CA.

  7. Coronary heart disease.” NHS UK.

  8. Fruits and vegetables’ latest superpower? Lowering blood pressure.” University of Southern California.

  9. The Interplay Between Fiber and the Intestinal Microbiome in the Inflammatory Response.” Oxford Academic.

  10. Can Increasing Fiber Reduce Inflammation?.” Arthritis Foundation.

  11. Cholesterol.” Harvard T.H. Chan.

  12. 10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication.” Mayo Clinic.

  13. Exercise and the Heart.” John Hopkins Medicine.

  14. Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” American Heart Association.

  15. Alcohol and Heart Health: Separating Fact from Fiction.” John Hopkins Medicine.

  16. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.” U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  17. How Smoking Affects Heart Health.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  18. Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  19. Health consequences of smoking 1–4 cigarettes per day.” BMJ Journals.

  20. Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease.” University of Rochester Medical Center.

  21. Heart Disease Facts." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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