Just 40 minutes three or four times a week (or 25 minutes of harder exercise, like jogging) can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight. You don't have to do it all at once. Even 10 minutes at a time is great for your heart. Take the dog or meet a friend at the park. If you're new to working out or just getting back into it, start slow. Talk to your doctor to see if you're healthy enough for exercise.
Your buddy can do your heart good -- literally. Research has shown that being alone, or perhaps more importantly feeling alone, is as bad for your heart as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, or not exercising. It's not how often you see people that matters, but how connected you feel to others. So make some plans with an old friend. Or join a club and meet some new ones.
The nutrients and fiber (and low calories and fat) make them heart-healthy. But they also have antioxidants, which may help protect your cells from damage that can lead to diabetes and heart disease. Try to work different colors of produce into your diet. You can also add them to foods you already enjoy, like loading pizza with veggies or adding fruit to a bowl of cereal.
The fiber, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids in nuts may help your body cut down on inflammation, "bad" LDL cholesterol, and plaque buildup in blood vessels -- all linked to heart disease. They also might protect against blood clots that cause strokes. The type of nuts you choose probably doesn't matter much, but don't overdo it -- they have lots of calories. About 4 small handfuls a week of unsalted nuts should do it.
Two servings a week of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, or tuna may help your heart health. Part of it may be the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish, but other nutrients may also help. There's debate about farmed vs. wild-caught salmon. Some say wild fish are lower in contaminants like chemicals and antibiotics. Others point out that laws regulate the growth and harvesting of U.S.-farmed Atlantic salmon. Supplements may not have the same benefits.
It's not just a single daily workout that lowers your odds of heart disease, it's how active you are all day long. Even if you have an exercise routine, being a couch potato the rest of the day can still be harmful to your health. Gardening, playing with your kids, walking to the bus, and even cleaning house are great ways to stay up and moving.
It's not just exercise, it's also a way to calm your mind and ease stress. That can lower heart rate and blood pressure and make you less anxious, which is all good for your heart. If yoga's not your thing, make time for other healthy ways to relax and cut stress, like meditation, listening to music, or a hobby you enjoy.
Your body needs long periods of deep rest. During that time, your heart rate and blood pressure drop low for a while, which is key for heart health. If you always snooze less than 7 hours, your body may start to make chemicals that keep those things from happening. Less sleep is also linked to inflammation and high blood sugar, which can be bad for your heart.
Do you snore loudly, wake up gasping for breath, or feel tired all day after a full night's rest? See your doctor. Those are signs of sleep apnea, a condition that can make you more likely to have stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Your doctor can help you treat it, which will help you sleep better and protect your heart.
Smoking raises blood pressure, makes it harder to exercise, and makes your blood more likely to clot, which can cause a stroke. But your chances of having a heart attack go down just 24 hours after your last cigarette. So see your doctor or check with groups like the American Heart Association for resources that can help you quit.
You're less likely to have heart disease if you have sex a couple of times a week, compared to once a month. Scientists don't know exactly why. The sex itself may help protect the heart. Or it may be that healthier people have more sex. Either way, what have you got to lose?
Extra pounds raise your odds of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, all linked to heart disease. Don't rely on fad diets or supplements to slim down, though. Exercise and the right amount of healthy foods are the best ways to keep a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about how to measure your body mass index (BMI) to find out if you need to lose weight.
Research has found that it seems to protect against heart disease, especially if you smoke or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. It's not clear how, but scientists have a few theories. It might be that the flu causes inflammation that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Or that the side effects of the virus strain the heart.
Heart disease is more likely if you sit all day. And it's not only because you burn fewer calories -- it's the actual sitting that seems to do it. It may change the way your body processes sugar and fat, which are closely linked to heart disease. Try to break up long periods of sitting at work and at home. Stand up and move around at least once an hour.
Your doctor can see if your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in danger of damaging your heart and blood vessels. The earlier you find those problems, the quicker you can start to treat them. They may want to test you for diabetes as well. If you have any of these conditions, your doctor can suggest lifestyle changes and medication to protect your heart.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- American Heart Association: "American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults," "Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention," "About Fruits and Vegetables," "Can antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect you and your heart?" "Smoking & Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Disease)."
- American Journal of Cardiology: "Sexual Activity, Erectile Dysfunction, and Incident Cardiovascular Events."
- BMJ: "Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013."
- CDC: "How Much Sleep Do I Need?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Why Sex Is Good for Your Health, Especially Your Heart."
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death."
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Staying Active."
- Mayo Clinic: "Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart," "Strategies to prevent heart disease," "Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health."
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Sleep Apnea."
- National Sleep Foundation: "How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart."
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Yoga: In Depth."
- University of Texas Medical Branch Health: "Socialization is good for your heart's health."
- Trends in Cognition Sciences: "Perceived Social Isolation and Cognition."
- Journal of Health and Social Behavior: "Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy."
- Smokefree.gov: "Benefits of Quitting."
- Journal of the American Medical Association: "Association Between Influenza Vaccination and Cardiovascular Outcomes in High-Risk Patients: A Meta-Analysis."
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis."