5 min read
Throughout your life, your heart works to circulate about 2,000 gallons of oxygen-filled blood through your body. It beats between 60 and 100 times every minute, for a total of 144,000 times per day. Although your very life depends on your heart’s function, it’s often taken for granted. We usually don’t pay attention to our heart health or do the things needed to ensure it until something goes wrong.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in America, even beating out second-place cancer. Cardiovascular disease is the catch-all term for all diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. But up to 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable, according to the American Heart Association. So we’ll discuss why heart health is important and ways you can improve the health of your heart.
Why is heart health important?
Your heart is fundamental to your overall health. Over the course of your lifetime, it beats about 2.5 billion times and will pump millions of gallons of blood all over your body. Your blood carries fuel, oxygen, hormones, essential cells, and other compounds. Not to mention that your blood also carries away the waste left over from the metabolism process.
Without the never-ending, rhythmic beating of your heart, essential functions will cease, and you will not live. Although this fantastic machine is designed to work for a lifetime, its effectiveness and health can be compromised by smoking, poor diet, genetics, lack of exercise, or infection.
Ways to Improve Heart Health
It’s vital for your longevity and quality of life that you work toward the fitness of your heart. Following are some of the things you can do to ensure you enjoy a healthy heart.
1. Get Moving
Physical activity is one of the most significant things you can do to strengthen your heart. For most adults, just 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or an hour and fifteen minutes of high-intensity exercise per week can revolutionize your health. Here are seven benefits of exercise for heart health.
- Improved blood flow
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduce heart arrhythmia
- Improves physical activity
- Encourages other heart-healthy habits
2. Quit Smoking
When you smoke, you damage the surface of your blood vessels, and this can lead to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when your arteries are lined with plaque. It limits how much blood can flow to and from your heart. When the plaque breaks free, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to quit. At whatever point you stop smoking, your blood pressure quickly returns to normal, and after about three months, your lung function will improve. After a year, your risk of cardiovascular disease decreases by half.
3. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Contrary to the claims of diet peddlers, a heart-healthy diet isn’t about any particular foods; it’s about how you eat over time. It means consuming a variety of foods that are naturally low in salt, added sugar, and saturated and trans fats. Also, try to eat foods that are high in fiber, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants. This means a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
4. Minimize Stress
When stress is short-lived or only occasional, it isn’t a danger - it may even be helpful. But when stress is ongoing in your life due to work problems, financial issues, or family challenges, it has been associated with heart disease. Aside from the emotional and psychological concerns, prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can increase your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.
5. Keep Track of Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is determined by how much blood your heart pumps in relation to the narrowness of your arteries. People with high blood pressure can often develop cardiovascular disease leading to a heart attack or stroke. So, keeping track of your blood pressure and knowing if it becomes consistently high could save your life.
Similarly, you should do a fasting lipoprotein profile every four to six years. The test will measure your good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and your body fat (triglycerides). There may be reason to worry if your triglycerides are high, combined with low HDL and high LDL cholesterol levels. This state is associated with developing clogged arteries (atherosclerosis).
If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, there may be medications you can take to manage your blood pressure or high cholesterol. You should also consider eating a heart-healthy diet (see above).
6. Improve Your Sleep
Restful, rejuvenating sleep is associated with a healthy heart. Poor sleep can increase your blood pressure which leads to cardiovascular disease. Inadequate sleep is also linked to other things that contribute to your risks of heart attack or stroke, like higher stress levels, low motivation (or ability) to exercise, and unhealthy eating habits.
7. Drink More Water
You may not know this, but water is essential to heart health. Your body is made up of up to 80% water, and it is vital to almost every bodily function. When you are well-hydrated, it makes the job of constantly pumping blood around your body far easier for your heart to do. Be guided by your thirst, but make sure you’re getting around 2.1 and 2.6 liters of water per day.
8. Never Miss a Check-Up with Your Doctor
When you are 30 years old and older, you should start talking to your doctor about your heart health and doing Heart Health Checks. This is particularly true if there is cardiovascular disease in your family.
Here are some of the things that will be assessed during a Heart Health Check:
- Medical and family history
- Cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
- Physical activity
With this information, your doctor will know how high or low your risk of heart disease. If your risks are high, there is nothing to fear.
Heart disease is America's number one killer. However, it doesn't have to be that way with the vast majority of heart conditions being preventable. These steps when taken over time will help to improve your heart health for the long run.