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Do These 5 Things to Promote Good Heart Health

Did you know heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.?

It’s true. Nearly 700,000 people each year – representing 1 in every five deaths – is due to heart disease.  

While you can’t control some heart disease risk factors, such as your family history or your age, there’s plenty you can do to keep your heart healthy and decrease the chances of serious, potentially fatal conditions  –  such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, and sudden cardiac arrest.

Let’s explore five steps you can take now to get your heart beating strong and your body feeling great!

1. Don’t smoke

Smoking, even using smokeless tobacco – damages your heart health. Chemicals in tobacco products, such as cigarettes, narrows blood vessels and weakens your heart and lungs. Smoking also decreases blood oxygen levels, causing increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Your heart must work harder to pump blood to the brain and body.

But there’s good news! Heart disease risk can begin to decrease in as soon as one day after you stop smoking. After a year without cigarettes, the risk drops to about half of that of a smoker. No matter how much you’ve smoked or for how long, you’ll likely feel better as soon as you stop.

2. Get moving  

It’s been said that sitting is the new smoking because the effects of a sedentary lifestyle – which has become more of the norm –  are similar to those linked to other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and eating poorly.

Maintaining a daily physical activity routine, even as little as 30 minutes a day, can reduce the risk of heart disease. Moving helps you control your weight, keeps your blood pressure in check, lowers your cholesterol, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes – all of which are heart disease risk factors.  

You don’t need to train like an Olympic athlete, run marathons, or sport six-pack abs. Just get up and get moving. Even a simple brisk walk daily can get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. Start small and build up your endurance, little by little. Longer-term weekly goals could include:  

~ 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling

~ 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as swimming

~ Two or more strength training sessions

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet

Eating well is key to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, eating healthy has become more challenging, largely due to the increased availability of processed foods, which tend to be high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and health-busting preservatives.  

  • For a heart-heathy diet, prioritize:   
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Beans or other legumes
  • Lean fish and meat
  • Fat-free dairy or low-fat foods
  • Whole grains  
  • Healthy fats, such those found in almonds or eggs
  • Healthy oils, such as avocado, coconut and olive


  • High sodium foods and those with highly refined carbohydrates
  • Sugary beverages, such as soda and energy drinks  
  • Alcohol
  • Highly processed foods, including processed meats
  • Full-fat dairy products, and saturated fat (found in some red meat)
  • Unhealthy oils, such as palm, canola, and vegetable oils
  • Trans fats, such as that found in fried chips, fast foods, and baked goods

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Being significantly overweight or obese increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about whether you’re at a healthy weight. You may have heard of body mass index, or BMI, as an indicator for whether you’re overweight. BMI can be a misleading indicator, so it’s best not to rely on it solely to determine whether you are overweight or obese. Again, consult your healthcare provider.

Here’s a fun fact! Losing even a little weight can make a big impact. Lowering your weight by just 3 to 5 percent can help reduce certain fats in the blood, known as triglycerides.

5. Get quality sleep, consistently

Many of us have trouble sleeping from time to time, but a consistent lack of sleep may increase your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other health factors. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, keep your bedroom quiet and dark, and avoid screen time – television, smart phones, etc. – a few hours before bed.

Speak with your doctor or healthcare provider if you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough sleep. Perhaps you feel tired and sluggish during the day. Ask if you should be assessed for obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that raises your risk of heart disease. Symptoms include stoppage of  breathing, loud snoring, and waking up gasping for air.

Change can be hard, but a healthy heart is worth the effort

There’s a lot you can do to improve your heart heath. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Just take it little by little. Making small changes can get the ball rolling in the right direction. Your heart – and your health will thank you!