Don't complicate preventing heart disease and boosting heart health. Combine exercise and healthy eating to naturally keep your ticker tocking steady.
Almost 27 million people in the United States have heart disease, and it kills about 600,000 people each year. Over 700,000 heart attacks occur during that same time. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is considered the leading cause of death in the U.S., costing us roughly $110 billion every year.
Heart disease can be broken into about a dozen different types, but it all comes down to the same vital organ failing to function correctly. Deaths from this terrible disease have declined since 1950 as society moved away from smoking and medicine has improved, but there are still too many people suffering and dying as their hearts give out.
Here are 14 ways to prevent heart disease and boost heart health naturally:
- Eat well
- Avoid refined sugar
- Don’t smoke
- Watch your weight
- Be active
- Reduce stress
- Vitamin B1
- Omega 3 (and healthy fats)
- Get enough sleep
What is Heart Disease?
You’re never too young, or too old to start thinking about your heart health. Heart disease is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions that all affect, you guessed it, the heart. Heart disease is not only the leading cause of death in the United States but the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Heart disease is a global issue.
There are several different types of heart disease that all affect different areas of the organ. Types of heart disease include:
- Arrhythmia - an abnormal heart rhythm
- Atherosclerosis - a hardening of the arteries
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) - a result of a buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries
- Cardiomyopathy - this results in the heart muscles hardening or growing weak
These are just a few of the types of heart disease. When it comes to heart disease, there are some risk factors that are simply out of your control like age, family history, race, and gender. However, there are risk factors that you do have control over that can reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
Lifestyle Changes and Heart Health
Your lifestyle and health-related behaviors can have a huge impact on your heart health. Things like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and smoking can all affect your health. A healthy and balanced diet with regular exercise can lower your risk of developing serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.
14 Ways to Boost Heart and Health and Naturally Prevent Heart Disease
Fortunately, there’s much you can do to minimize your risks and help prevent this disease before it starts, though you should always consult a health care professional before changing your diet, starting exercise routines, eliminating any prescriptions, or adding new supplements. Some natural supplements can interact with prescriptions in dangerous ways, so it’s important to be well-informed, smart, and safe as you work to improve your health.
1. Eat Well
Fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits don’t make it into our modern diet as often as they should. These are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and beneficial phytonutrients we’re just beginning to understand. Many of these protect the heart, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and strengthen the heart.
Try to limit foods that are high in sodium, trans fats, and saturated fats. Eating a lot of sodium or salt can contribute to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart disease. Choose a healthy eating plan as the foods you eat can decrease the risk of developing stroke and heart disease. Focus on incorporating whole foods and plenty of high-fiber fruit and vegetables.
2. Avoid Refined Sugar
Refined sugars are squeezed into many of our modern, processed foods, even the ones that aren’t that sweet. We simply get way too many of our calories from refined sugars and processed carbohydrates that lack the benefits of natural foods. Then we toss those foods back with super-sugary soft drinks. Sugary drinks are one of the biggest sources of added sugar in the diet. Unspurpsinginly, studies show that people who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages consistently gain more weight than people who don’t.
These sugars are hard on the liver, kidneys, arteries, and everywhere in-between. They contribute to obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Sugar spikes also raise the heart rate, blood pressure, and interfere with blood vessel function. All of this is hard on our hearts.
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found an association between high-sugar intake and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. The 15-year study showed that people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who got 8% of their calories from added sugar.
3. Don’t Smoke
When you smoke, your arteries tighten meaning your heart has to work harder. Smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow and thicken. It can also make blood more sticky and more likely to clot. This is a problem because it has the potential to block blood flow to the brain and the heart. Smoking also encourages the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels.
Whether it’s surgery drinks or smoking, it’s hard to quit bad habits. It’s not something that happens overnight. If you’re a smoker, quitting smoking could be one of the best ways to give your heart health the boost it needs.
Related: How to Break-Up With Your Bad Habits
4. Watch Your Weight
Being underweight or overweight both put a strain on your body and your heart. Don’t overeat, but don’t starve yourself either, and be careful with diets that call for eliminating a macronutrient completely. Your body needs some carbohydrates and fats to function correctly.
Your weight and your heart health are linked. But, that doesn’t mean that being overweight guarantees you’ll experience heart problems. There are multiple ways to reduce the risk of heart-related issues and weight loss or weight management may be one of them.
Experts consider obesity and being overweight a major risk factor for heart disease. Obesity is linked to things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Watching your weight can help to lower all of these risk factors.
5. Be Active
Activity and exercise reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduce both inflammation and oxidation damage to the heart, arteries, and other organs. It strengthens the heart so it can pump more efficiently and not work as hard all the time.
The best kinds of exercise for heart health is a plan that includes aerobic, strength training, and stretching. Aerobic exercises help to improve circulation which can lead to lower blood pressure and heart rate. If you can, aim for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. This can be in the form of a brisk walk, swimming or cycling.
Start with what you are able to do and build from there. Even half an hour of walking will do your heart plenty of good. Doctors recommend 150 minutes a week of heart-pumping activity. Of course, always listen to your body and let yourself rest and build up your fitness.
6. Reduce Stress
Stress is a natural consequence of living, and the body is well prepared to deal with it in short bursts. However, it’s ill-equipped to handle that same stress long term. Hormones and neurotransmitters are quickly depleted, and many vital body functions are limited, including digestion, while inflammation increases.
Everyone feels stress in different ways and how you cope with it differs from person-to-person. It’s thought that stress contributes to heart disease as it affects many elements and behaviors that increase the risk of heart disease. When you feel stressed, it can result in high blood pressure, overeating, smoking, and physical inactivity. All of which contribute to heart disease.
Work on coping, managing and reducing stress in any way you can. Exercise, breathing techniques, acupressure, massage, meditation, or tai chi can all help. Research shows that mindfulness meditation may help to ease anxiety and reduce mental stress. To start a regular meditation practice, try downloading apps like Headspace or Calm. Set aside 10 minutes of your day to turn inward and really focus on yourself.
Massage can help reduce stress, but it also improves blood flow for better circulation and toxin removal. Massage releases beneficial neurotransmitters too, so you feel better fast.
Garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots are all friendly to the heart. They lower cholesterol, improve proper blood clotting, lower blood pressure, and help control blood sugar too.
CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant, improves cellular energy, and controls proper blood clotting. It gives the heart muscles a boost of energy to keep it pumping well.
Hawthorn lowers blood pressure, increases circulation, and may also strengthen the heart.
11. Vitamin B1
This B vitamin supports healthy heart, nerve, and muscle function. It is also involved in energy production. Several other B vitamins have been linked to heart health, like folate, niacin, B6, and B12, but these should come from food sources as much as possible and not from synthetics. Most synthetic B vitamins are derived from coal tar and harsh chemicals like ammonia and acetone.
Omega 3 reduces inflammation and lowers cholesterol. It has been linked to healthy hearts in numerous studies. Try microalgae sources which are lower on the food chain, purer, stronger, and more bioavailable than fish or krill oils. Coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are also a good place to get healthy fats the body needs. Avoid the more processed oils, even the vegetable ones.
Magnesium is used throughout the body in thousands of ways, and deficiency has been linked to heart disease. Low levels contribute to high blood pressure, arterial plaque, higher cholesterol levels, hardening of arteries, and calcification of tissues. Dark leafy greens, seeds, nuts, bananas, and dark chocolate are good sources.
14. Get Enough Sleep
When you think of positive heart-healthy habits, you probably think about regular exercise and healthy eating, but sleep is an essential part of heart health. Regardless of your age, weight, or exercise habits, people who sleep less are at a higher risk of heart disease. Sleep is critical for proper health.
Adults who sleep less than seven hours every night are more likely to say they experience a range of health problems including high blood pressure, types 2 diabetes, and obesity. These health problems may raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, or heart attack.
Aim to get at least seven hours of high-quality sleep consistently. To help get your body into a regular routine, try sticking to a regular sleep schedule, get enough exercise and exposure to natural light during the day. Consistent and quality sleep is essential not only for your heart but for every other part of your body and brain too.
Preventing heart disease means making smart choices now. Over the years, a lack of exercise, poor diet, and bad habits can all take its toll on your most vital organ. You can benefit from making simple and small changes to boost your heart health and start preventing heart disease naturally. When it comes down to it, your heart works best when you feel your best.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published onSEP 17, 2015 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
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