How to Build a Heart-healthy Diet and Lifestyle

Your diet and lifestyle are the two most important things for keeping your heart healthy. Here's our list of changes you can make to improve both.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Andy Manganaro, MD, FACS, FACC

Published on 2/5/2021

How to Build a Heart-healthy Diet and Lifestyle

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, which means many people are looking for ways to improve their heart health. Read on to learn some easy changes you can make to lower your risk of heart disease and keep your heart in great shape.

A heart-healthy diet

Your body is only as healthy as what you put into it. The foods you eat can have a dramatic impact on your health. For your heart, there are some very specific things that should be avoided as well as certain foods that can be incorporated to give it a boost.

Decrease salt intake

Too much salt in the blood increases water retention, driving up blood pressure.

If you cook, this is as easy as decreasing the amount of salt you use in dishes and switching to low-sodium versions of ingredients like butter and soy sauce.

When grocery shopping, always check the label of processed and boxed foods. As much as 75% of our sodium intake comes from these. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends no more than a teaspoon of salt per day.

Avoid saturated & trans fats

Saturated and trans fats raise the level of low-density lipoproteins (or LDLs) in the blood. LDLs deposit cholesterol into your arteries, which then harden and form arterial plaque, restricting blood flow and driving up blood pressure.

These fats are mostly found in:

  • Bacon
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Butter
  • Whole & 2% milk

Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables

Almost all fruits and vegetables are going to offer positive heart health benefits. They are high in nutrients that your body needs while also being low in calories. They're also an excellent way to satisfy a craving for sweets, as they are full of natural sugars.

Fresh is always better, but frozen fruit can still be good as well. Just be sure to check the packaging and make sure that there is no added sugar, which would defeat the purpose of trying to eat healthier.

See if your heart is healthy with a cardiovascular screening from Life Line Screening

A heart-healthy lifestyle

Aside from eating better, there are some changes that you can make to improve your heart health — and improve your overall health in the process.

Aerobic exercises

A heart-healthy lifestyle is an active one. As long as you don't overexert yourself, almost any physical activity is going to have a positive effect on your overall health. With that in mind, aerobic exercises tend to be better for the heart and lungs as they are specifically designed to improve their strength and capacity.

Aerobic exercises, also known as cardio, include activities like walking, running, biking, swimming, or using an elliptical machine. Like any exercise, it is best to start small and build up to longer, more strenuous routines.

Exercise isn't just great for your physical health, either. Studies have shown that exercising has a positive impact on your mental health as well. For the best results, try to exercise for 30 minutes a day at least four days a week.

Get some rest

A lack of sleep can have serious health consequences. Staying up just a little too late on a single night won't hurt, but studies have shown that people who consistently get little or poor-quality sleep are more at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

This is due at least in part to increased stress levels. Sleep is one of the body's main ways to deal with stress. Stress builds up over time and wears on the body both physically and mentally. Your body also uses this time to physically refresh itself. So, make time to get to bed a little earlier if necessary, because the health benefits are more than worth it.

Stop smoking

There are many documented health problems that come from smoking. In regard to heart health, the chemicals in cigarette smoke can thicken blood, making it much more difficult to move through the body. It can also harden arteries, causing atherosclerosis. When arteries are less flexible they are much more easily damaged, especially over time.

Today, the negative health effects of smoking are well-known. If you are a smoker and would like help quitting, there are lots of invaluable resources and helpful groups available to help you quit. SmokeFree.gov is a great place to start, as are any local groups that you can contact for in-person support.

See if your heart is healthy with a cardiovascular screening from Life Line Screening

How can you tell if your heart is healthy?

Your heart is a muscle. And like every other muscle, it needs regular activity and the right fuel to stay in shape. But how can you tell how healthy your heart is right now? There are a few things you can do to see where you stand.

Heart Rate

Heart rate is the speed at which your heart beats to push blood through your body. What constitutes a good heart rate depends on your height, healthy weight and gender. Generally speaking, if your heart rate is too high that means your heart is having to work harder than it should, which could lead to damage and heart disease over time.

The healthy average resting heart rate usually falls somewhere between 60-100bpm. To get a more precise idea of what yours should be, consult your doctor. To find your heart rate, locate your pulse on either your wrist or neck and count the number of beats for 30 seconds. Then double that number to get your resting beats per minute.

Keep in mind that if you are in good physical shape, you could have a lower-than-average heart rate because your heart doesn't have to work nearly as hard.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure measures how hard blood is pushing on the walls of your veins and arteries. Blood pressure can go up if there is arterial plaque constricting the flow of blood or when arteries harden, causing them to become less flexible.

To check your blood pressure, you're going to need a blood pressure monitor. Most people know these as the pressurized cuffs that go onto your arm. In the United States, many grocery stores with pharmacies have one that is available to use for free.

If you are especially concerned about your blood pressure, you can also purchase a blood pressure monitor to keep at home.

Blood pressure readings are presented as two numbers — for example, 120/80. The first number is systolic pressure, which measures the maximum output of your heart. The second number represents diastolic pressure, which is your blood pressure when your heart is relaxed.

Like many things, having a healthy blood pressure depends on several factors, age and gender being two of the most important. Your doctor will be able to give you the most appropriate target ranges for you, but you can also check online resources like this chart to get a good estimate.

Assess your heart health with a cardiovascular screening

Cardiovascular screenings offer a way to get a look inside your body at the physical state of your heart and blood vessels. These screenings use ultrasound technology, which is quick, noninvasive, painless.

During one of these screenings, an ultrasound technician will get a live look at the health of your arteries. You'll then be able to take your results to your physician so they can help you develop a treatment plan if necessary.

Life Line Screening offers hundreds of convenient screening locations nationwide. Just look up the one nearest you and schedule the screening time that works best.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to our team.

Topics:

Cardiovascular Wellness

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