During your 20s, 30s and even 40s, it can be too easy to have an attitude of benign neglect toward your heart, letting it beat along as if nothing in the nearby future is going to happen. But that’s a mistake, says Marcus Smith, MD, a cardiologist with Oklahoma’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic. “Heart disease isn’t a disease for the elderly,” Dr. Smith says.
His advice? Start the eating, sleeping, and workout habits associated with good health now. “It’s always better for your cardiac health to be proactive, rather than reactive,” he says. And keep in mind, these habits don’t necessarily have to be a chore or overly involved. After all, reducing stress plays a big role in a healthy heart—that means going on vacation, giving out hugs, or even petting a dog can help support your ticker.
Here are eight science-backed, expert-recommended, and actually achievable heart-healthy habits you can pick up—and stick with—every day.
A super-simple daily habit to take up: Grab your water bottle, fill it up, drink the whole bottle—then repeat. “Hydration allows the heart to work with ease and grace,” says cardiologist Adam Splaver, MD, who recommends using clear urine as a metric that you’re sufficiently hydrated. Not drinking enough is associated with higher heart rate and blood pressure problems.
MAKE TIME TO MEDITATE
Stress from relationships, finances, and so on have a physical effect on your body, says Dr. Smith. “And we definitely know that it can translate into health ailments, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), and other health ailments,” he says. Meditation is a good option to relieve stress and lower blood pressure. To get started, Dr. Splaver suggests exploring apps or beginner YouTube videos.
Swap in a healthier spread
As innocent as buttering your morning toast seems, what type of spread you’re using matters. Butter can be high in saturated fat, which is associated with raising your LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and in turn increases a person’s heart disease risk. The American Heart Association® recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to 13 grams each day, and a better-for-you, vegetable oil-based choice like American Heart Association®-certified* Promise Buttery Spread can help keep you on track.
Promise Vegetable Oil Spread, $2.99
*Heart-Check certification does not apply to information in this article unless expressly stated.
Try something new
When was the last time you picked up a new hobby? “Being in touch with your inner child and allowing yourself to explore and be playful causes the release of feel-good hormones,” says Dr. Splaver. This leads to improved blood pressure and does you a lot more good than binging a TV show. Whether it’s expanding your jigsaw puzzle collection, learning cross-stitch, or taking up photography, there are plenty of new things to learn.
Go for a walk
When the thought of changing into workout gear and queuing up that exercise video seems plainly unappealing, try going for a walk instead. “Exercise as well as being outdoors have been known to lower blood pressure and improve mood and overall oxygenation,” says Dr. Splaver. Going for a moderately intense walk is just as effective as running at reducing your risk for hypertension and high cholesterol, according to a study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
Eat your fruits and veggies
A study presented at the 2019 conference for the American Society for Nutrition found that millions—yes, millions—of cardiovascular deaths around the world could be attributed to not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Opt for a veggie-heavy, low-sodium stir-fry for dinner, and grab apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruits when you want a snack. Best practice is consuming 2,000 calories a day with 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
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