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9 Tips for Heart Health
January 18, 2024|Read Time - 10 minutes
Written by
Medically reviewed by
Last updated on January 16, 2024

The importance of heart health and how to take care of yours

February is the month of hearts; all those Hallmark cards, candy hearts, and heart-shaped chocolate boxes. Here at Sesame, we have something different in mind. We know February as American Heart Month, a time to focus on your heart health. That means focusing on that small but vital organ that keeps you alive.

This article will explain why keeping your heart healthy is so important. It will also provide health tips and lifestyle changes you can use to live a healthier life.

The importance of heart health

Nearly half of all American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure is the major risk factor for health problems like heart disease and heart attack.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. A person dies from heart disease every 33 seconds. An American has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Ultimately, over 800,000 Americans have a heart attack every year.

These numbers show just how important it is to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. This means keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check to prevent strain on your heart. Over time, keeping your heart healthy will reduce your risk of heart attack, coronary heart disease, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Here are some tips for healthy living.

1) Maintain a healthy weight

Having overweight or obesity increases your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other problems. Excess fat in the body causes your heart to work extra hard. Over time, this strains the muscle and keeps it from being able to pump blood properly.

Healthcare providers generally use body mass index (BMI) to determine if someone has obesity or overweight. A BMI over 25 generally falls within the overweight range. A BMI over 30 indicates obesity. It’s important to note that BMI is a screening tool for a healthy weight. There are flaws with this measurement. A healthcare provider should perform tests to determine whether or not you are a healthy weight.

If you have overweight, losing even a small percentage of weight can help improve your health. Losing as little as 5 pounds can help lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health.

2) Get enough physical activity

Regular exercise does two things. For one, it helps you maintain a healthy weight. It also gets your heart pumping, which strengthens it. A strong heart doesn’t have to work as hard to push blood throughout the body. This can lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Exercise also boosts the amount of blood circulating through your blood vessels. This causes them to widen and become more flexible, which helps lower blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly. Aerobic exercise can be a brisk walk or a bike ride. It can also include jogging, swimming, dancing, and yard work.

In addition to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise, the CDC recommends adults fit in 2 days of muscle-strengthening exercise. This could be bodyweight exercises, lifting weights, or carrying heavy loads, even carrying heavy bags of groceries counts.

Over a week, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is not a huge time commitment. It comes out to just over 21 minutes per day. You could do 25 minutes of exercise every day or spread longer sessions throughout the week.

It’s crucial that you start slowly. Injuries and overtraining occur when we’re overambitious with our fitness goals. If you struggle to stay active, aim for a 20-minute walk daily. Once that’s done, try upping the time or intensity of the activity.

Moving your body isn't only good for your heart; it also helps you lose weight, stay at a healthy weight, avoid type 2 diabetes, and improve your mental health. Even if you've never exercised, start with little steps to enjoy a healthier life.

3) Focus on healthy eating

In 2019, only 1 in 10 Americans met the recommended fruit and vegetable intake standards. Eating healthy foods can lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. A heart-healthy diet can protect you against coronary artery disease and other chronic diseases.

A healthy diet is low in added sugars, sodium, and trans fat. This means cutting back on dairy products, fried food, fatty red meat, and salty snacks.

Heart-healthy foods include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables (especially leafy greens)
  • Lean proteins (like fish and poultry)
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Low-fat dairy products

Keep in mind that not all fat and cholesterol are bad. Healthy fats can be found in olive oil, avocados, dark chocolate, and fish. Avoid artificial trans fat–often found in processed baked goods, fried food, and margarine.

A healthy diet is vital to combating obesity and lowering blood sugar. This can help prevent the development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

4) Manage blood pressure and cholesterol

High blood pressure, heart disease, and heart failure often run in families. That means if you have a parent or grandparent with heart problems, you may be at a higher risk for them as well.

Cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight management are important health topics to discuss with your doctor. If you know you have a family history of heart problems, tell your healthcare provider. You can’t change your genetics, but you can discuss how to keep your heart healthy.

Your healthcare provider may suggest lifestyle changes like those found in this article. They may also recommend regular testing to monitor your blood pressure. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, they may ask for blood testing to check lipid and triglyceride levels in your blood. These are two forms of fat that often indicate high cholesterol.

Educate yourself and your healthcare provider on your family health history. Being open and honest about your health can help you two work together to prevent scary health complications down the road.

5) Quit smoking

Smoking is devastating for your health. Nearly 1 in 4 deaths from cardiovascular disease are caused by smoking.

The chemicals in cigarettes can damage your blood vessels by making them stiff. Smoking also causes plaque to build up in the arteries, narrowing the passageways that blood flows through. This makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Over time, this significantly increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Smoking cigarettes isn’t the only way smoking damages your health. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases your risk of heart disease. Avoid being around cigarette smoking whenever possible. If you smoke, avoid exposing others to it. Better yet, start working with your healthcare provider on quitting. Quitting smoking doesn’t just protect your health; it protects those around you.

6) Moderate your drinking

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Despite some studies showing a link between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of heart disease, regular alcohol consumption has been shown to lead to heart damage and heart failure. Cutting back on drinking can improve several health conditions while reducing your risk of developing heart problems.

In addition to limiting your alcohol intake, cut down on sugary drinks like soda. People who drink one to two cans of soda per day have a 26% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is closely linked to high blood pressure. Cutting back your soda drinking or quitting it altogether helps prevent a raft of health problems, including high blood pressure and excess blood sugar.

7) Manage your stress

Stress can increase your blood pressure because it makes your heart beat faster and your blood vessels narrow. This is a normal reaction when you're stressed, but if you're stressed a lot, it can hurt your blood vessels over time. Also, when people are stressed, they sometimes do things that are bad for their health, like overeating, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol. These habits can be harmful to your blood pressure and your overall health.

8) Get enough sleep

Sleep is crucial to managing stress. Your blood pressure goes down as you sleep. Adults who habitually do not get enough sleep are at higher risk for high blood pressure. Not getting enough sleep also increases your risk for heart attack, obesity, and depression.

Adults should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Children need even more. The best way to ensure you get enough sleep is to create a sleep schedule and stick to it. That means turning in and waking up at the same time every day. It also helps to wind down towards the end of your day. Turn off electronic devices and do something calming to let your body know it’s time to rest.

If you are struggling with getting enough sleep, talk to a sleep specialist for medical advice on improving your sleep. You may be struggling with a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. If this is the case, your provider will discuss treatment options to help you get the sleep you need every night.

9) Stay up to date on your health care

If you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or heart disease, communicate with your doctor about how your treatment is going. Re-evaluate whether or not you are taking your medication regularly and as ordered.

You may also discuss whether or not you should measure your blood pressure at home. At-home blood pressure monitors are affordable and easy to use. Regular tracking of your BP can help you stay informed about how you are managing your condition.

Furthermore, ask your healthcare provider about how to prevent illness and infection. The flu, COVID-19, and bacterial infections are all linked to elevated blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, illness won’t help. Work with your provider to ensure you are current on your vaccinations and testing. Preventing disease is a good way of avoiding complications from high blood pressure.

It’s essential to monitor your heart health. Whether or not you have a family history of heart problems, preventing cardiovascular conditions can help you live a fuller, longer life. If you have any questions or need some help getting started, you can book a video primary care visit or video cardiology consult on Sesame to talk to a licensed healthcare provider from the comfort of your own home.


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