Your heart works hard for you nonstop for your whole life. So show it some TLC. Making small changes in your habits can make a real difference to your ticker. You don’t have to work on all 10 steps at once. Even if you improve just one or two of these areas, you can make yourself less likely to get heart disease. Of course, the more tips on this list you follow, the better.
1. Get 7 or more hours of sleep.
In one study, young and middle-age adults who slept 7 hours a night had less calcium in their arteries (an early sign of heart disease) than those who slept 5 hours or less or those who slept 9 hours or more. The type of shut-eye they got was important, too. Adults who said they got good-quality sleep also had healthier arteries than those who didn’t sleep soundly.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, or if you don’t feel refreshed after a full night in bed, talk to your doctor about how healthier sleep habits might improve your slumber.
2. Keep your blood pressure low.
If your blood pressure gets too high, the extra force can damage artery walls and create scar tissue. That makes it harder for blood and oxygen to get to and from the heart. The heart has to pump harder and gets worn out faster. If it can’t get enough oxygen, parts can start to die.
Cut back on salt, limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks a day, favor healthy eating habits (think fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein) manage your stress, and work out. These changes are often enough to bring your blood pressure back down into the normal range. If not, your doctor might recommend you also take medication.
3. Cut back on saturated fats.
To help your heart’s arteries, cut down on saturated fats, which are mainly found in meat and full-fat dairy products. Choose leaner cuts and reduced-fat options.
Also, totally quit trans fats, which are found in some processed foods. They drive up your “bad” cholesterol level. Check ingredient lists for anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” — those are trans fats.
4. Get checked for diabetes.
Millions of people have diabetes and don’t know it. That’s risky because over time, high blood sugar damages arteries and puts you at risk for heart disease. Your doctor should test your blood sugar if you are 45 or older, if you are pregnant, or if you’re overweight and have other risk factors for diabetes.
5. Move more.
To keep it simple, you can aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week of moderate exercise. That includes any activity that gets you moving around and breaking a slight sweat. Break up long periods of sitting, and stand or walk while doing things like talking on the phone or watching TV.
6. Eat clean foods.
Your heart works best when it runs on clean fuel. That means lots of whole, plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds) and fewer refined or processed foods (like white bread, pasta, crackers, and cookies). One of the fastest ways to clean up your diet is to cut out sugary beverages like soda and fruit juice, which lacks the fiber that’s in actual fruit.
7. Get to the root issues.
For many people, “emotional eating” is where they find comfort and stress relief, and how they celebrate. So if it’s hard to change those patterns, it can help to talk with a counselor to find other ways to handle those situations.
8. Ditch the cigarettes.
Smoking and secondhand smoke are bad for your heart. If you smoke, quit, and don’t spend time around others who smoke as well.
9. Do more of what you love.
Make it a point, too, to spend time with people you’re close to. Talk, laugh, confide, and enjoy each other. It’s good for your emotional health and your heart.
10. Celebrate every step.
Making changes like these takes time and effort. Think progress, not perfection. And reward yourself for every positive step you take. Ask your friends and family to support you and join in, too. Your heart’s future will be better for it!