Love Your Heart. Everyday Tips to Keep Your Heart Healthy and Strong | #UCLAMDChat Webinar

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How to Maintain a Healthy Heart

Two Parts:

A healthy lifestyle is the key to maintaining a healthy heart. The heart is a vital muscle that delivers nutrients throughout the body, and—just like any muscle—it needs to be maintained with proper exercise. Therefore, recognize that maintaining a healthy heart means cutting out as many of the high-risk habits in your life as possible. For some people, that could mean making huge changes in all aspects of their daily life. Even eliminating a few risk factors to improve your heart health can reap many benefits.


Maintaining a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

  1. Stop all forms of tobacco use.Using tobacco increases your risk of heart damage. Both tobacco and nicotine contain many chemicals that cause harm to your blood vessels and heart, and this results in atherosclerosis, which is a plaque build-up of cholesterol, fat, and calcium in your vessels that can cause your arteries to narrow, decreasing blood flow.
    • The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke has also been linked to mortality and morbidity.It interferes with oxygen, so your heart is pressured into supplying additional oxygen to compensate. The tightening of the blood vessels, partnered by the stress on the heart can both result in a heart attack. The only way to stop this burden on your heart and strive for a healthier heart is to stop smoking.
    • Approximately 1 in 5 deaths in the United States is caused by cigarette smoking. According to the National Institute of Health, smoking is the main preventable cause of mortality in the United States.
  2. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine.One way to make any muscle stronger is to exercise it. The same is true for your heart. Here is what the American Heart Association recommends:
    • At least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to get your blood pumping and dramatically improve your heart's health. Ideally, you should do this 5 days a week for a total of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise.
    • Alternatively, you can do 25 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 3 days a week, totaling 75 minutes in all.
    • You should also incorporate resistance training (weight/strength training) into your workout at least 2 days every week in addition to the cardio.
    • Always work up to a healthy routine! Only begin with what you are comfortable doing, and then systematically increase the difficulty as you are able to tolerate it. Too strenuous a routine too quickly can actually strain your heart and defeat the purpose. If you have any health conditions, discuss with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.Increased weight causes your body to require more effort from your heart to maintain a baseline resting level. This continual strain on your heart can tax it and result in further issues in the future. Exercise and a healthy diet will help you lose the weight that is putting a strain on your heart. Dangerous cardiac issues that arise from being overweight include:
    • Coronary heart disease - This condition arises from plaque build-up inside the arteries that serve your heart. Plaques can narrow your arteries as they grow and decrease the amount of blood flow, reducing the amount of oxygen that can be supplied to your body. In addition, your heart must work harder to push blood through the narrowed channels, which can cause angina (chest pain from oxygen deprivation) or even a heart attack.
    • High blood pressure - If your heart has to pump harder to get the appropriate amount of oxygen and nutrients through your body, the vessels and your heart can become damaged over time. Your risk of high blood pressure is significantly greater when you are obese or overweight.
    • Stroke - If a plaque that has developed in your arteries ruptures, the plaque can cause a blood clot to form. If the clot forms in close proximity to your brain, your brain can become deprived of blood and oxygen, resulting in a stroke.
  4. Make a habit of getting regular screenings of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.Doing so will keep you informed of your heart's health and allow you to take action before anything serious develops.
    • Blood pressure screenings - You should check your blood pressure every two years. If your blood pressure is above 120/80, then your doctor will likely recommend you have your pressure checked every year (or more depending on how high the reading is or if you have kidney problems, heart disease, etc.)Your workplace or pharmacy may also offer free, automated blood pressure machines. Use these as often as you want to supplement actual visits to your doctor. If your blood pressure is above 140/90 and your doctor is not aware, it is important that you contact your doctor as soon as possible.
    • Cholesterol Screening - All men above the age of 34 should be screened every five years. Your doctor will draw blood samples and have them tested in the lab for cholesterol levels. He or she will go over the results and readings with you. If you have any risk factors that could make you more likely to have high cholesterol, it is recommended that you be screened as early as 20 years of age. Risk factors may include immediate family history, diabetes, or prior heart disease.Depending on a regular workup, your doctor may request that you are screened more often.
  5. Avoid too much stress.Stress can play a huge role in your heart health. Increased stress releases cortisol and adrenaline, which elevates blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Stress-related behaviors can also negatively affect your health, causing you to smoke more, drink more, overeat, and be physically inactive. All these behaviors will contribute negatively to your heart health.
    • Exercise, diet, and abstinence from smoking and coffee can help to reduce stress. You should consider these practices in your life particularly when you are stressed.
  6. Manage your mental health.Certain mental health conditions can lead to detrimental behaviors for your heart health. These include depression and anxiety disorders, which include disorders such as bipolar disorder and OCD. These behaviors can present with symptoms of excessive eating, decreased eating, apathy, physical inactivity, stress, elevated blood pressure, and many other symptoms that negatively impact your heart.
    • If you are diagnosed with any mental health condition or believe that you may be suffering from one, be sure to visit your doctor as soon as possible. Only your doctor can effectively treat your mental health condition, as well as determine the effect it may have on the rest of your physical health.

Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet

  1. Eat a healthy diet.Opt for a diet that avoids saturated and trans-fat foods, such as red meat, deep-fried fast foods and processed foods. You should also avoid foods that are high in salt and cholesterol. Fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as mackerel and salmon, can reduce risk of a heart problem. The American Heart Association recommends that your diet consist mainly of the following (see next section for specifics):
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Low-fat dairy products
    • Poultry
    • Nuts and fish
  2. Focus on adding heart-healthy “superfoods” to your diet.Superfoods are a category of foods made popular by the media to denote foods with supposed health benefits. This term is not commonly used by clinically trained health professionals in the field of nutrition. However, many of these foods are believed to have high nutrient density and many may confer health benefits beyond other traditional food choices. Some of these foods include:
    • Avocados - Avocados are considered “superfoods” due to their high amounts of monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats, unlike saturated fats, are liquid at room temperature and have the ability to help reduce cholesterol levels. Avocados are also unique in that they contain phytosterols, which compete with cholesterol in the body for absorption. By competing with cholesterol, you absorb less cholesterol, lowering your blood cholesterol levels.
    • Extra-virgin olive oil - Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, helping to lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). Olive oil has also been shown to aid in the prevention of blood clotting as well as maintaining even blood sugar.
    • Nuts - Peanuts and tree nuts (pecans, pistachios, walnuts, etc.) are amazing sources of phytochemicals, vitamins, fiber, minerals, and unsaturated fats. These have all been shown in studies to benefit the heart by raising HDL (good cholesterol), lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and lowering your blood pressure.
    • Quinoa - Quinoa is a staple plant food from South America. This food is high in protein and contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
    • Dark chocolate - Dark chocolates are required to contain at least 70% cocoa. This type of chocolate contains high levels of flavanoids, which can lower your blood pressure. Although it can be potent for your heart health, it also is very high in calories and should not be eaten in high amounts.
    • Salmon - Salmon is a very healthy protein source that also contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil, which have been shown to aid significantly in cardiovascular health.
    • Oatmeal - Oatmeal is a high-fiber whole grain that helps to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol. Steel-cut oats confer the highest benefit, as the digestion time is extended, and they have a low glycemic index. A low glycemic index will keep blood-sugar levels from spiking, which can help to prevent heart disease over time.
    • Oranges - Oranges are also rich in soluble fibers that aid in the reduction of cholesterol absorption. They also contain potassium (which can help keep sodium balanced) and vitamin C.
    • Beans - Almost all types of beans provide high amounts of protein, fiber, and minerals. Beans will convey benefits similar to steel-cut oats, helping to lower cholesterol and blood pressure with a low glycemic index.
  3. Avoid foods that are bad for your heart.You should always avoid foods high in saturated fats, trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and cholesterol. These include red meat, fast food, fried food, chips, sodas, excessive butter, etc. Most people know when they are eating unhealthy foods. Use your best judgment and common sense, and take note of nutrition labels, which show daily recommended values.
  4. Limit alcohol to a healthy amount.Per the American Heart Association, men are allowed two alcoholic beverages a day to protect the heart and women can drink one.More than that will have the opposite effect.
    • Alcohol can damage the heart by contributing to high blood pressure, stroke, and obesity if not consumed in moderation.
    • Additionally, alcohol can lead to increased levels of triglycerides. These are a specific class of fats that can cause conditions such as pancreatitis. Prolonged alcoholic drinking can lead to irreversible pancreatic damage (chronic pancreatitis).
  5. Add dietary supplements to your diet.While you should gain the bulk of your nutrition from foods, supplements can help to round out minor deficiencies in your diet. These particular supplements can be found in the superfoods discussed above and have been shown to confer some benefits to cardiac health:
    • Vitamins and minerals - A daily vitamin is a good supplement that can provide you with heart healthy vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin K, vitamin E, and magnesium.
    • Herbs - Garlic, echinacea, and ginseng are believed to confer benefits to heart health.
    • Others - Many people do not enjoy eating fish, which can provide many heart health benefits. Alternatively, you can try omega-3 fatty acid pills along with coenzyme Q10.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    What would you do when you feel stress?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    See How to Deal With Stress for healthy ways to manage stress. It's normal and fine to experience stress here and there, as long as you are able to bounce back from it and it does not take over your life. Also, the more positive your attitude toward your stress, the better it is for you - stressing about being stressed is counterproductive. Channeling the energy of stress into productivity or framing a stressful situation as a challenge rather than as a threat is healthy for you.
Unanswered Questions
  • Will drinking coffee a lot hurt my heart?
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Sources and Citations

  1. Cardiovascular effects of carbon monoxide and cigarette smoking, Journal of the American College of Cardiology Volume 38, Issue 6, 15 November 2001, Pages 1633–1638 Shoshana Zevin, MD*, Sandra Saunders, MD†, Steven G Gourlay, MBBS, PhD†, ‡, Peyton Jacob III, PhD†,Neal L Benowitz, MD

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