5 Things You Can Do to Support Heart Health NOW

Following a heart healthy lifestyle doesn’t need to take a lot of time, money, or effort. These heart healthy lifestyle tips can be practiced right NOW to improve your cardiovascular health. These may also be guidelines we’ve heard before but may fail at practicing them consistently in our own lives.

In this article, I will explain five very important LIFELONG practices that will help protect your heart and overall health.

*Note: This article includes affiliate links that are clearly marked. I will earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

Tip #1: Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet

Isn’t it obvious that eating more of the right foods will help support heart health?

These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein sources.

By eating more of these foods, you may be less likely to eat other, not-so-healthy foods.

A heart-healthy diet is rich in antioxidants, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. You will have all the energy you need to get you through your day and you’ll likely feel GREAT!

In addition, most heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet limit processed foods, sweets, red meat, and alcohol. Limiting these foods can prevent significant amounts of saturated fat, added sugar, sodium, and/or cholesterol in your diet and decrease your risk of heart disease.

These two specific dietary patterns promote heart health and follow similar principles.

If you’d like more information on the differences between these two diets and see which is the best fit for you, check out my article, DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet: Which Is Best?

Both of these diets focus largely on plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). Even the USDA’s MyPlate eating pattern recommends that we fill half of our plates with fruits and vegetables at meals.

Let’s talk a bit more about food suggestions within these categories and what health-promoting nutrients they provide.

healthy heart tips, eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits

Fruit is a great alternative to commercially prepared baked goods and other sweets and candies. They are “nature’s candy” as the saying goes. All types of fruits are wonderful to include in a heart-healthy diet as they reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and overall mortality.

Try a variety of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, or peaches. These contain antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, potassium, and vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K.

Vegetables

The more the merrier here guys! Research has consistently proven the benefits of vegetable intake for preventing cardiovascular disease. Veggies are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols that can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

Try a variety of vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, beets, carrots, or bell peppers. They contain polyphenols, nitrates, fiber, potassium, folate, calcium, and vitamins A, C, E and K.

Note: If you are taking the blood thinner coumadin, be mindful of your intake of foods high in vitamin K, like dark green leafy veggies.

Nuts

Try a variety of ANY type of nut available. Enjoy walnuts for the added omega-3 fatty acids and almonds for the high amount of vitamin E. All nuts have protein and are a great source of magnesium. Additionally, they have unsaturated fats that may help improve cholesterol levels.

Dietary guidelines recommend eating five ounces of nuts, seeds, or soy products per week. For reference, one ounce of nuts is around 30 grams.

And Yes, they recommend “unsalted” nuts over salted varieties.

Serving size various nuts

Note: when it comes to LDL and HDL cholesterol, think “L” for lousy 😠 and “H” for happy 😊.

Beans and Legumes

Try a variety of any type of beans (think black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto, cannellini, lima, mung, navy, etc.) or lentils or peas. They are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, magnesium, and folate.

Aim for 1-3 cups of beans, lentils, or peas per week.

Note: Remember to choose low-sodium or “no-salt-added” versions when buying canned beans.

Lean Protein Sources

Another important component of a heart-healthy diet is lean protein sources. Including protein at mealtimes is important to maintain muscle and strength as we age.

Many cardioprotective diets promote plant-based protein sources like beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This is because studies show that these types of proteins lead to a lower incidence of heart disease and overall death.

However, fish, seafood, eggs, and poultry can also be eaten while following a heart-healthy diet. These are considered high-quality protein sources.

A heart healthy diet recommends about 5.5 ounces of protein each day from a variety of sources. For reference, 3 ounces is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.

serving size of meat and poultry

Note: Some animal proteins should be eaten only on occasion (1-3 times per week). These include red meat and other fatty meats like duck, pork, goose, and processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are also a crucial part of a heart healthy diet- the less processed the better.

They provide fiber, including soluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol and improve blood sugar control. Additionally including more whole grains over more processed carbohydrate foods can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • Whole grain breads and rolls
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Quinoa, rice, millet, and other unprocessed grains
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley

Heart Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Eating Better

Take small steps towards eating a heart-healthy diet. Look at your current eating patterns along with the types of foods you are choosing. Do you see any room for improvement?

If so, start with one or two changes or “swaps”. For example, if you eat fast food meals five days a week, start by cutting back to once a week.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you often choose salty snacks like potato chips to snack on. Start by choosing more nutritious snacks instead, like fresh fruit, yogurt, or unsalted nuts.

To help make sure you are including enough heart-healthy foods in your diet, download my FREE Heart Healthy Grocery Guide.

heart health grocery guide

Or sign up for my email list to receive a FREE list of my Top 25 Foods for Heart Health.

Top 25 foods for heart health opt-in

If you need some cooking inspiration, visit my RECIPES section to see some of my favorite go-to heart-healthy recipes including:

Tip #2: Get More Physical Activity

Of all the heart healthy lifestyle tips, this is another obvious one. But how much exercise should we get to start seeing benefits?

Research suggests any amount of physical activity is better than nothing. However, there are specific guidelines that are recommended to achieve cardiovascular benefits (1).

Both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend the following for adults aged 18 to 65 years:

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes, five days each week.

OR

  • Vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes, three days each week.

In short, aim for 150 minutes of activity each week. This may sound like a lot, but if you break it down into small increments throughout your day, it’s definitely doable!

What Counts as Moderate-Intensity Activity?

Examples of moderate-intensity activity include:

  • Brisk walking (4 mph)
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bike (10-12 mph)
  • Dancing
  • Heavy cleaning (vacuuming, mopping, washing windows)
  • Mowing the lawn (with a power mower)

What Counts as Vigorous-Intensity Activity?

Examples of vigorous-intensity activity include:

  • Hiking
  • Jogging (6 mph)
  • Shoveling
  • Carrying heavy loads
  • Bicycling fast (14-16 mph)
  • Playing soccer or basketball

You can also combine bouts of moderate and vigorous intensity activities to meet the recommended amount of physical activity each week. Keep things interesting and try new ways to incorporate physical activity into your day.

When it comes to physical activity, MORE is MORE. There is no upper limit to the recommendation. So for those wishing to improve personal fitness, reduce the risk for chronic diseases and disabilities, or prevent unhealthy weight gain, feel free to increase your activity for the week!

Please note, however, it is always recommended that you talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Start slow and increase as you go. Don’t forget to take breaks if needed. 💪

Additional Information Regarding Physical Activity

The Department of Health and Human Services also has a great infographic available to download. A brief snippet is seen below. As you can see, they recommend adding muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days each week in addition to 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week.

The addition of weight training is beneficial to keeping lean muscle mass as we age. This helps prevent muscle wasting and helps maintain our strength and ability to do everyday activities of daily living.

How much activity do I need? Healthy heart tips

Related Article: Check out this article by my friend Rochelle, who is a fellow RD and exercise physiologist called “14 Amazing Benefits of Physical Activity“. P.S. It includes a FREE handout!

Tip #3: Get Enough Sleep

The third heart healthy lifestyle tip is to get adequate amounts of sleep. Sleep is important for many reasons, as it helps improve:

  • Mental clarity
  • Physical healing and muscle relief
  • Immunity
  • Weight management
  • And more!

People may suffer from one of two sleep conditions that end up affecting their heart; these are sleep apnea and insomnia.

Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is when your airway gets blocked repeatedly during sleep, causing you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. Read this amazing article on sleep apnea for more tips on how to manage this condition.

Insomnia: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or go back to sleep if you wake in the middle of the night.

Both of these conditions can cause not only a lack of sleep, but a lack of QUALITY sleep which is linked to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends most adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Older adults over 65 years of age should get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night (2).

The National Sleep Foundation also stresses that people who do not get consistent and appropriate amounts of sleep each night may even be endangering their health (2).

Related Article: Why Sleeping Is Important for Health [And How To Get More!]

get more sleep healthy heart tips

Heart Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Getting Better Sleep

If you feel you’re not getting enough sleep, or you don’t get consistent amounts of uninterrupted sleep, it’s time to take action!

I have plenty of tips for getting more sleep in my article, “Why Sleeping Is Important for Health [And How To Get More!]

One suggestion is to begin a pre-bedtime routine. This could include sipping on a cup of herbal tea that contains herbs known for their calming effects, such as chamomile, lavender, honeybush, valerian, or lemon balm.

Try one of the following relaxing, caffeine-free tea blends from Paromi Tea as part of your new bedtime routine:

Mention any sleep issues or symptoms you’re having with your doctor. Your symptoms may be related to sleep deprivation or a condition that may require the use of a CPAP machine while you sleep.

There is also a test called a sleep study which is performed in a controlled setting such as a hospital or sleep lab. This test analyzes sleep phases and can help diagnose sleep disorders.

What’s interesting to note is that all four of the other heart healthy lifestyle tips mentioned in this article (eating habits, exercise, smoking, and stress levels) affect sleep patterns and quality. This goes to show that all of these areas are connected and provide a great deal of overall health benefits if you maintain the proper balance.

Tip #4: Stop Smoking (And Avoid Second and Thirdhand Smoke)

The fourth heart healthy lifestyle tip you can work on right now is not going to apply to everyone. I’m talking specifically to those who smoke.

P.S. It doesn’t matter what you smoke. If you smoke anything (cigarettes, cigars, marijuana, vape pens, etc.), you are not only harming your lungs, but also your heart.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking:

  • Raises triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
  • Lowers HDL cholesterol level
  • Makes blood sticky and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart and brain
  • Damages cells that line the blood vessels
  • Increases the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) in blood vessels
  • Causes thickening and narrowing of blood vessels

Dangers of Second and Thirdhand Smoke

You may also be exposing others to secondhand smoke which is just as harmful. A review of scientific literature shows that there is about a 25 to 30 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease from exposure to secondhand smoke (4).

You should also be careful of thirdhand smoke. This is the residual contamination left behind when carcinogenic residue collects on surfaces. These surfaces include walls, ceilings, clothes, furniture, carpets, curtains, and other upholsteries, etc.

Thirdhand smoke is just as damaging and harmful because the noxious chemicals can be re-mitted into the air for up to 6 months, even after a smoker has quit (5).

Children and adults are at risk for ingesting these pollutants by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouths. If the thought of exposing your child to noxious chemicals caused by YOU does not compel you to quit smoking, I don’t know what will.

Heart Healthy Lifestyle Tips To Quit Smoking

There are many different options and tools available to help you quit smoking. Here are a few suggestions:

quitSTART- Quit Smoking app

Related Article: How Can Refraining From Smoking Benefit an Individual’s Health?

Tip #5: Manage Stress Levels

The last of these heart healthy lifestyle tips is related to stress management. Preventing and managing stress levels is crucial to maintaining blood pressure levels, a healthy weight, hormone balance, and other bodily processes.

We all deal with stressors at some point in our lives. However, some situations are more stressful than others. Chronic stress over long periods can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke (6).

In addition, stress may lead to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors like:

  • Smoking
  • Overeating
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Weight gain
  • Not taking medications as prescribed

As a result, these poor health behaviors may then lead to bigger and more chronic problems like:

  • Irregular heart rate and rhythm
  • Increased digestive problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Reduced blood flow to the heart

This mind-heart-body connection is very strong. This is why managing high levels of stress is essential to overall health.

Heart Healthy Lifestyle Tips to Manage Stress

If you feel you are experiencing unusually high levels or frequencies of stress, I recommend you speak to your doctor or another trained health professional who can help.

Here are a few suggestions for managing stress in your life:

  • Managing areas #1,#2 and #3 from this list
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Here’s a quick relaxing one I enjoy –> The “Do Nothing For 2 Minutes” webpage
  • Taking time for self-care
  • Finding a stimulating hobby
  • Maintaining social connections with friends and family
  • Writing down your thoughts each night (journaling)
  • Listening to music

Related Article: Maintaining a Healthful Diet During Times of Stress

heart healthy lifestyle tips to reduce stress

Conclusion

Above all, I hope you realize that there is always something you can do RIGHT NOW. Even if all five of these heart healthy lifestyle tips are ones you already know, I hope I could at least provide some additional resources to help you improve upon the areas you need. There is no time like the present to get started.

It’s important to understand that you don’t need to make multiple diet and lifestyle changes all at once. Take things at your own pace and begin building healthy habits over time. Remember to be consistent and take it one step at a time. You CAN do this!

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