Healthline offers you 28 ways to power up, slow down, have fun, and get fit —all in the name of a healthy heart. Pick your favorites, and work them into your regular routine.
1. Stop smoking-no ifs, ands, or (cigarette) butts.
People still need to be reminded of this? Yes, they do. This nasty habit is one of the top controllable risk factors for heart disease. The AMA, the AHA, the NIH, and more than likely your MOM recommend you stub out this addiction to make a huge difference in your overall health.
2. Focus on the middle.
Your middle, that is. You don’t have to be super thin to reap the benefits of a smaller waistline, but carrying too much weight around the middle raises blood pressure, affects blood lipids (and not in a good way), and does other damage to the heart. Abdominal exercises are good, but remember it’s calories in (what you eat), calories out (how you exercise) that will make a difference in the tape measure.
3. Play between the sheets.
Or on top of the sheets or in the kitchen or wherever! Yep, having sex can be heart healthy. A number of studies show that sexual activity adds more than pleasure to your life. It can actually lower your blood pressure and your risk for developing heart disease.
4. Knit a scarf.
Put your hands to work and your mind will unwind. Engaging in activities like knitting, sewing, and crocheting helps relieve stress that does the ole ticker a world of good. For the “uncrafty” lot who don’t do needles, a jigsaw puzzle works great too!
5. Power up your salsa.
A good salsa rich in antioxidants is a great snacking choice when paired with low-fat chips or fresh veggies. When you mix in a can of black beans (rinsed and drained) you get a two-for-one special because adding soluble fiber (such as that found in beans and other legumes) into your diet helps lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. Add a dash of lime juice and a chopped jalapeno for extra kick to jumpstart your metabolism. Munch on that!
6. Let the music move you.
Whether it’s a rumba beat or a two-step tune that gets your body moving, dancing raises your heart rate, burns some calories (between 150-300 calories an hour), and makes for a great heart healthy workout.
7. Go fish.
Studies have shown that including fish with omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. salmon, herring, sardines, and to a lesser extent tuna) into your diet can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by a third or more. To those concerned about the mercury or other contaminants, the Mayo Clinic states the heart healthy benefits outweigh the possible risks of exposure to contaminants.
Not in an email, not on Twitter or Facebook, but really… laugh out loud. Whether you like watching “The Family Guy” or “Seinfeld” reruns, whatever gets you chuckling is good for your heart. Research (from the University of Maryland School of Medicine) shows that laughter helps relieve the stress that damages the endothelium (the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels and helps the blood flow) and promotes the healthy function of blood vessels.
9. Stretch it out.
Practicing yoga not only makes you more limber and helps you relax (which combats stress), but according to recent research from India, it also positively affects the heart rate variability (HRV) that is an indicator for heart health.
10. Raise a glass.
Moderate consumption of alcohol can raise your HDL (good cholesterol) levels, reduce blood clot formation, and help prevent artery damage. Some studies say red wine offers more benefits than other alcoholic beverages. But other studies conflict with this. Moderation is key here, and you should talk to your doctor about potential benefits and risks.
11. Shun the salt.
Overwhelming research shows that if the entire US population reduced its salt intake (just a half teaspoon a day), it would significantly reduce the number of new cases of coronary heart disease. Studies also concluded that salt is one of the leading culprits fueling the rise in healthcare costs in America. Most of our high salt intake comes from processed food and restaurant-prepared food. Think twice before filling up on your favorite fast-food fix.
12. Move it, move it, move it.
A new study from Australia found that sitting for long periods of time can shorten your life regardless of your body weight. It appears that being a couch potato has an unhealthy influence on blood fats and blood sugar. At the office, work in “get up” breaks, and go for a short stroll around building.
13. Know your numbers.
Keeping your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides in check are important for good heart health. Learn the optimal levels, and don’t skip your regular physical exams.
14. Eat chocolate.
No guilt required. Rich, dark chocolate tastes delicious, and according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it can help stave off heart disease because of the flavonoids it contains. Preliminary research also suggests that chocolate can positively affect blood clotting.
15. Let your housework work for you.
Vacuuming or mopping the floors may not be as invigorating as a Body Slam or Zumba class, but these activities and other household chores do burn calories. Put your favorite music on, and put some pep in your weekly chores.
16. Go nuts.
Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other tree nuts deliver a powerful punch for lowering your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. Studies show that substituting saturated fats with fat from nuts actually helps reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.
17. Be a kid.
Fitness doesn’t have to be boring. Plan an evening out roller skating or bowling. Do both, and you can burn, on average, around 600 calories.
18. Consider pet therapy.
Our pets give us more than unconditional love; they offer numerous health benefits. Studies show that owning pets can lower the rate of dying from heart disease and possibly improve heart and lung function.
19. Start and stop.
And start again. During aerobic workouts, interval training (varying your speed and intensity in short bursts) will boost your calorie burn. Wear a heart rate monitor to make sure you are hitting your target heart rates.
20. Cut the fat.
Slicing your fat intake to no more than 30% of your daily calories will help cut your risk for heart disease. If you’re not into reading labels or counting calories, think twice before you savor your next meal. Do a mental calculation of what you are eating.
21. Take the scenic route home.
Put down your cell phone, forget about the driver who cut you off, and enjoy the ride. Eliminating stress while driving will help lower your blood pressure, which your cardiovascular system will appreciate.
22. Make time for breakfast.
This is the one meal you shouldn’t skip. The good-for-you benefits of eating a healthy breakfast are numerous. What is included in a healthy breakfast? Whole grains (whole grain rolls, cereals, etc.), low-fat protein (i.e. hard-boiled egg, turkey bacon), low-fat dairy (skim milk, low-fat yogurt or cheese), and fruits and vegetables.
23. Fake your fitness.
It’s a no-brainer that exercise has substantial benefits to your coronary health. Why not sneak it in at every opportunity? Park on the far side of the parking lot, take the stairs, walk and talk with a friend instead of e-mailing, play with your kids at the park. It all adds up to better health.
24. Brew up a heart healthy potion.
No magic needed when you sip on green or black tea. Different studies (some focusing on black tea, others on green tea) show that drinking tea can improve arterial health.
25. Smile and say, “How does my heart look?”
Good dental hygiene does more than keep your pearly whites glistening. It may affect your overall health. Research suggests that several types of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, may be connected to your oral health.
26. Walk it off.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, get mad, or are totally exasperated, take a stroll. A five-minute walk will do wonders for clearing your head and lowering your stress levels.
27. Pump some iron.
Aerobic activities may be the star players in fitness for a healthy heart, but strength training needs to be part of the team. Its effect on weight control is awesome-more muscle mass means burning more calories. The American Heart Association gives strength training a thumbs-up for lowering the risk of heart disease.
28. Find your happy place.
A sunny outlook is good for your heart. Research from the University College London shows that those who are happy tend to have lower levels of the potentially harmful hormone cortisol and other stress-inducing chemicals.