February is American heart month! Sadly, 1 in 4 deaths is due to heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. So what causes heart disease? High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors. We’ve compiled these 8 tips to help keep your heart healthy and prevent heart disease, check them out below!
1. Focus on healthy fats and not trans fat
Fats in your food are not made equal! Foods consist of healthy and unhealthy fats- the good fats include saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, which come from sources like vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. These healthy fats lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL). On the flip side, the bad fat, known as trans fat, is known to increase your chance of heart disease by increasing your bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol.
Processed foods are the biggest sources of trans fat, including cookies, crackers, chips, cakes, margarine, processed oils, and popcorn. Try taking these foods out of your diet slowly, removing one food a month until trans fats are not a big part of your diet!
2. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
The American Heart Disease shows that smoking is the leading cause of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) diseases. When tobacco hits the bloodstream, it clogs and damages arteries throughout the body, heart, and brain, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Even if you are not actively smoking, ingesting secondhand smoke from another smoker can be extremely dangerous to your health. Ingesting secondhand smoke at home or work can increase your risk of heart disease by 25-30%.
3. Get up and move
Physical activity is a key component of heart health. The American Heart Association recommends getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. It does not matter what activity you do, as long as you get those active minutes in!
4. Stay in a healthy weight range
Being overweight puts extra stress on your heart and your arterial walls. Excess belly fat puts you at risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two big contributors to heart disease.
Aim for the healthy BMI range of 18.5-24.9! Click here if you would like to calculate your BMI.
5. Catch your Zs
Sleep is essential not only to your overall health but especially to your heart health. Did you know that sleep allows the body to lower blood pressure and cholesterol for a period of time? Even if you practice other heart-healthy habits, long-term sleep deprivation, even minor deprivation, puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. It is recommended that you get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night!
6. Practice good dental hygiene
Bad dental hygiene may be more associated with your heart health than you may realize, studies suggest. The American Heart Association found that those that brushed less than twice a day increased their risk three-fold. Gum disease increases the inflammation in your body, as well as increases your blood pressure, which in turn can affect your heart.
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day is a small price to pay for a lower risk of heart disease!
7. Eat cholesterol friendly foods
Your body naturally makes cholesterol and needs it to survive, but if you get too much LDL (bad) cholesterol, it can stick to your arteries and cause blockages. The recommended intake for cholesterol is less than 200 mg a day, and foods like eggs, cheese, shellfish, red meat, etc. are very high in cholesterol and should be limited. Focus on foods that are high in HDL (good) cholesterol, like fish that are high in omega-3s, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, etc.
8. Manage stress
While more research is needed to determine the direct effect of stress on heart health, there is one thing many researchers agree on. Stressful times tend to make people revert to coffee, cigarettes, not exercising, or other bad health habits, which can increase your blood pressure and damage your heart health. Stress management also contributes to your overall health, which makes for a healthy heart.