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How To Have A Healthy Heart
Updated on November 4, 2022
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How To Have A Healthy Heart

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Medically, this is known as coronary artery disease (CAD). It happens when one or more of the blood vessels supplying oxygen into the heart is 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.

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.1

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. Here are 10 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. This can decrease blood supply and oxygen to the heart, increasing your risk for heart attacks.2 

In the long-term, extra calories from overeating stores these excess in the form of fat. This is reflected in high cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease

You can avoid overeating by planning meals in advance and portioning your meals. One way to do this is by using a small plate or bowl to limit how much food you eat. 

Calorie-counting can also help you be mindful of your intake.

Making healthier food choices will further prevent you from overeating. Foods rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats can satiate you and keep you full longer.

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2. Try to maintain a healthy body weight

Doctors use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine whether you have a healthy weight, or if you’re obese or overweight. BMI is calculated using your height and 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.3 

A study of over one million women shows that a higher BMI increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease.4

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.5

However, too much salt can elevate your blood pressure. Dr. Mira says this can strain your heart.

“High blood pressure forces your heart to work extra hard just to pump blood to different organs,” she says.

Cutting down on the amount of salt when preparing or cooking your food can be a good start. 

Here are some salt substitutes you can use to flavor food:

  • Herbs and spices
  • Salt-free seasoning blends
  • Canned soups or prepared meals with no added salt or reduced salt
  • Reduced-salt versions of condiments (e.g., ketchup and soy sauce)

Most of your salt intake can also come from canned or processed foods. It’s best to prepare meals at home using whole fresh foods.

But if you lack time to cook your meals, look for options with no added salt or less sodium.

4. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Many fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients that can help prevent heart disease. For example, you can get vitamin C and beta-carotene from citruses, carrots, and spinach.

These vitamins act as antioxidants. Antioxidants can:6

  • Help slow down oxidative stress that can later lead to atherosclerosis
  • Prevent fats and cholesterol from building up inside the walls of your arteries

Atherosclerosis restricts blood flow to your heart muscle. It can increase your risk for coronary artery disease.7 

Fruits and vegetables can also help lower blood pressure. Many of them have high amounts of potassium. This mineral helps you maintain normal sodium levels.

Potassium also lessens the tension in your blood vessels, which can help control high blood pressure.8 Maintaining a normal blood pressure decreases your risk for heart disease.

It’s best that you eat whole and fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. This will help you avoid adding unnecessary salt, sugar, and food additives to your diet.

5. Add whole grains to your diet

Whole grains are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Since fiber-rich foods have a low calorie density, eating them can help you manage your weight.9

Studies reveal that a high-fiber diet controls the body's inflammatory reaction. Inflammation is a risk factor to poor heart health.10

Some whole grain products you can choose to add to your diet are:

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

6. Avoid unhealthy fats

Unhealthy fats (like saturated fats and trans fats) can raise your low-density lipoprotein or LDL. LDL levels are also known as a “bad” cholesterol.

High LDL levels can increase your risk for heart disease.11 It can also cause plaque to build up in your arteries over time, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke. 

Common sources of saturated fat are animal-based food products like beef, pork, poultry, full-fat dairy, eggs, and tropical cooking oils like coconut and palm.

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

  • Choose lean meats or lean protein sources
  • Lessen your use of butter and margarine when cooking food
  • Use healthier fats in meal preparations, such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Always check food labels and avoid items with trans fat 

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.12 

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:12 

  • 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.13,14

8. Decrease your alcohol consumption

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.15

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 this alcohol intake for adults:16

  • 2 drinks or less in a day for men
  • 1 drink or less in a day for women

9. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke

Smoking is one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease.17 It can cause plaque build-up in the walls of your arteries and veins. 

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, and affect the transportation of oxygen to your heart and the rest of your body.18 

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

Your risk for heart diseases may also increase if:

  • You smoke more than one cigarette in a day19
  • You’ve been smoking for many years
  • You’re a non-smoker exposed to secondhand smoke

Quitting smoking is the best way to keep yourself and everyone around you safe.

10. Learn to manage stress

Chronic stress can impact your heart and overall health. 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.20 

You can manage stress in many ways, including:

  • Having regular physical activity like walking
  • Try doing relaxation exercises like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga
  • Maintaining social connections with friends, family, and other people you trust
  • Getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night
  • Keeping a positive attitude
  • Listening 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.

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Resources

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  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. Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  18. How Smoking Affects Heart Health.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  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.
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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