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Supporting your heart health doesn’t need to take a lot of time, money or effort. There are things you can do right now to support your heart health. You may even be doing some of them already. And the best part about this list of 5 things you can do to support heart health NOW, is that all of these things will improve other aspects of your health as well.
#1: Eating More Supports Heart Health
In saying “eating more”, I do not mean to eating more food in general. Eating more supports heart health by means of more fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. By eating more of these foods, you are less likely to eat other, not-so-healthy foods.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans provide antioxidants, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals while also giving you enough energy to get you through your day. They provide you with all things your body needs and none of which it does not need (saturated fats, added sugars, sodium and cholesterol).
You can review the USDA’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for a complete assessment of what is recommended for Americans today. Although, if you do not want to sift through 164 pages, a summarized version can be found HERE.
According to the USDA, you should make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Beans and nuts are listed under “protein foods” along with meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, seeds and soy products. Peas and lentils are also considered protein foods in addition to also being listed under the vegetable group.
Try a variety of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, bananas, oranges, grapefruit or peaches. They contain antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, potassium and vitamins A, B6, C, E and K.
Try a variety of broccoli, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, carrots or bell peppers. They contain polyphenols, fiber, potassium, folate, calcium and vitamins A, C, E and K.
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 are a great source of magnesium. Additionally, they have unsaturated fats that help reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Try eating 1 ounce at least 5 times a week for heart health!
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 beans (think black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto, cannelloni, lima, mung, navy, etc.) or lentils or peas. They are a good source of protein, fiber, magnesium and folate. Try aiming for about 1.5 cups per week and remember to choose low sodium or “no salt added” versions when buying canned beans.
To make sure you are getting enough of these foods, download my FREE heart healthy grocery guide HERE.
And for some cooking inspiration, visit my RECIPES section to see some of my favorite go-to heart healthy recipes.
#2: Physical Activity Supports Heart Health
I’m sure it’s no surprise that getting a decent amount of physical exercise supports heart health. But how much exercise should we get in order to start seeing benefits? Research suggests any amount of physical activity is better than nothing. Although there are specific guidelines that are recommended in order to achieve cardiovascular benefits.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommends 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.
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. It might sound like a lot but if you break it down into small increments throughout your day, it’s definitely do-able!
What Counts as Moderate-intensity Activity?
Examples of moderate-intensity activity may include:
- Brisk walking (4 mph)
- Water aerobics
- Riding a bike (10-12 mph)
- Heavy cleaning (vacuuming, mopping, washing windows)
- Mowing the lawn (with a power mower)
What Counts as Vigorous-intensity Activity?
Examples of vigorous-intensity activity may include:
- Jogging (6 mph)
- 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 your recommended amount of physical activity for the 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 recommendations. So for those wishing to improve personal fitness, reduce 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 inform your physician before starting any new exercise program. Start off slow and increase as you go and listen to your body. Take breaks when needed. 💪
Additional Information Regarding Physical Activity
The Department of Health and Human Services has a great infographic available to download HERE. 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.
#3: Getting Enough Sleep Supports Heart Health
Next up on our list, let’s talk about sleep. I absolutely LOVE sleep. It’s very important. Important for mental clarity, physical healing and muscle relief, immunity and weight management just to name a few things. And of course, it also supports heart health!
Individuals may suffer from one of two sleep conditions that end up effecting their heart; sleep apnea and/or insomnia. Sleep apnea is when when your airway gets blocked repeatedly during sleep, causing you to stop breathing for short amounts of time. 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 lack of sleep, but lack of QUALITY sleep which is linked to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
A National Sleep Foundation study recommends that most adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. And older adults over 65 years of age should get between 7 and 8 hours each night. In addition to how much sleep you get, the QUALITY of sleep also matters. Your body has a natural circadian rhythm. This is your body’s internal “clock” that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Getting regular, uninterrupted sleep each night is essential to health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, person’s who do not get consistent and appropriate amounts of sleep each night may be endangering their health.
Tips for Getting Better Sleep
If you feel you do not get enough sleep, or do not get consistent amounts of uninterrupted sleep, you may want to read some of these sleep tips.
One tip recommends that you 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.
I recommend that you try one of the following great-tasting and relaxing Paromi Tea brand caffeine-free tea blends as part of your new bedtime routine:
You should also mention any sleep issues or symptoms you may be having to your physician. Your symptoms may be related to sleep deprivation.
Your physician can also do testing to figure out if a machine called a CPAP is needed when you sleep. Or you may be prescribed medication to help your sleep condition.
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 4 of the other areas mentioned in this article (#1- eating habits, #2- exercise, #4- smoking and #5- stress levels) all effect sleep pattern and quality. Which goes to show that these areas are all connected and provide a great deal of overall health benefits if worked on harmoniously.
#4: Stop Smoking (and avoid second and thirdhand smoke) to Support Heart Health
The fourth thing you can do right now to support heart health is not going to apply to everyone reading this. I’m talking specifically to those who smoke. And it doesn’t matter what you smoke. If you smoke anything at all (cigarettes, cigars, marijuana, vape pens, etc., you are not only harming your lungs but also your heart.
So, for those that still haven’t quit or are having a hard time, allow me to inform you of all the harmful effects of smoke inhalation on the heart.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking:
- Raises triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
- Lowers “good” cholesterol (HDL)- remember “H” for happy 😊
- 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
You may also be exposing others to secondhand smoke which is just as harmful. Review of scientific literature outlined HERE, shows that there is about a 25 to 30 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Likewise, there is also such a thing as 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 due to the fact that the noxious chemicals can be re-mitted into the air for up to 6 months, even after a smoker has quit.
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.
For Help to Quit Smoking
- Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW
- Review the CDC’s Free Tips and Tools to Help You Quit, HERE
- Talk to your physician about medications to help quit smoking
- Find support through family/friends/social support (Facebook groups, YouTube, Twitter, etc)
- Download a Quit Smoking app from Google Play or the Apple Store
#5: Managing Stress Supports Heart Health
Preventing and managing stress supports heart health as well. I tell patients often that high stress levels can do a lot of damage to the human body. And the research definitely backs that statement up.
Chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, which may lead to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
In addition, stress may actually cause us to develop unhealthy behaviors such as:
- Lack of physical activity
- Unhealthy diet
- Being overweight
- Not taking medications as prescribed
As a result, these poor health behaviors may then lead to bigger and more chronic problems, such as:
- Irregular heart rate and rhythm
- Increased digestive problems
- Increased blood pressure
- Reduced blood flow to the heart
This mind-heart-body connection is very strong and is the reason why managing high levels of stress are essential to overall health.
Preventing and Managing High Levels of Stress
Stress is a natural part of life. We all deal with stressors at some point in our lives. If you feel you are experiencing unusually high levels or frequencies of stress, I recommend you speak to your physician first. Some of the following recommendations may also help:
- Managing areas #1,2 and 3 from this list
- Trying a relaxation technique such as yoga or meditation. Here’s a quick relaxing one I enjoy –> The “Do Nothing For 2 Minutes” webpage, HERE.
- Taking time for self-care
- Finding a stimulating hobby
- Maintaining social connections with friends and family
Related Article: Maintaining a Healthful Diet During Times of Stress
Above all, I hope you realize that there is always something you can do RIGHT NOW. And even if all 5 of these recommendations are ones you already knew, I hope I at least provided some resources to help you improve upon the areas you need help with. There is no time like the present to get started. And you do not need to make changes in all 5 areas at once. Take it at your own pace. One step at a time.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: [https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf].
- Guasch-Ferré M, Liu X, Malik VS, Sun Q, Willett WC, Manson JE, Rexrode KM, Li Y, Hu FB, Bhupathiraju SN. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017 Nov 21;70(20):2519-32. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/70/20/2519.
- Viguiliouk E, Glenn AJ, Nishi SK, et al. Associations between Dietary Pulses Alone or with Other Legumes and Cardiometabolic Disease Outcomes: An Umbrella Review and Updated Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Adv Nutr. 2019;10 (Suppl_4) : S308-S319.
- Haskell, W. L., Lee, I-M., Pate, R. R., Powell, K. E., Blair, S. N., Franklin, B. A., et al. 2007. Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, 116 (9), 1081-1093. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/12649/secondhand-smoke-exposure-and-cardiovascular-effects-making-sense-of-the.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd ed. 2018. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: [https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf].
- Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, et al. National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health. 2015;1(1):40-43.
- American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. 2021. Thirdhand smoke harms people even after smoking stops: protect yourself and your loved ones. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: [https://no-smoke.org/smokefree-threats/thirdhand-smoke/].
- Institute of Medicine. Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, 2010. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/12649/secondhand-smoke-exposure-and-cardiovascular-effects-making-sense-of-the.
- American Heart Association. 2021. Stress and Heart Health. Accessed: 4 November 2021. Available from: [https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health].
Kiran Campbell is a registered dietitian and entrepreneur with 13 years of experience. She has a degree in psychology as well as dietetics. She is also a proud member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ and its Cardiovascular Health and Well-being Dietetics Practice Group among others. Kiran proudly presents and promotes the most up-to-date, science-based nutrition information on all things heart-related. She aims to serve not only individuals with heart disease, but also those wanting to protect against it. Learn more about Kiran by visiting her About Page.