Yes, you can check your blood pressure at home, don a heart-rate monitor, and sidestep saturated fat, but there are other healthy lifestyle changes that can do your heart good — and that are much more fun. Read on for some unexpected ways to help protect your ticker.
1. Move your daily walk to the afternoon.
Exercising at any time of day can strengthen your heart by helping lower bad LDL cholesterol, raise good HDL cholesterol and reduce inflammation. But studies show that shifting your regular workout to sometime between lunch and dinner may help your heart even more. That’s because your muscles are warmer and more flexible in the middle of the day, so pushing your pace will feel easier. It follows, then, that you’ll be more likely to exercise more vigorously and frequently — two of the keys to a healthier heart. If your schedule only allows for a morning walk, experts say you can mimic the midday effects by including a 10-minute warm-up.
2. Go (a little) nuts.
All nuts contain some heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain plant sterols, which can help limit the amount of dietary cholesterol the body absorbs. When the 3 p.m. slump hits, consider munching on a 1-ounce handful of unsalted nuts to hold you over until dinner. (Do your waistline a favor by seeking out raw or dry-roasted varieties.) But easy does it: The bite-size nutritional powerhouses are also high in fat and calories, so make sure your handful doesn’t become a fistful.
3. Let go with friends.
Friendships are a powerful — yet often overlooked — tool to help manage stress, which is one of the preventable causes of heart disease. Simply picking up the phone and talking with a friend after a tough day can signal the body to release oxytocin, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. A feel-good hormone that compels people (especially women) to nurture and be with their loved ones, oxytocin not only puts the mind at ease, it’s also a powerful antidote to the better-known fight-or-flight response, which is marked by the production of the heart-damaging stress hormone cortisol.
4. Turn in earlier.
Getting fewer than six hours of uninterrupted sleep may make you more likely to have a heart attack, research shows. Why? Short-changing your sleep needs may elevate your body’s natural response to stress, namely by releasing hormones that speed up your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. To make sure you’re not sleep deprived, aim for seven to nine hours of z’s each night. If you regularly have trouble falling asleep, try turning in at the same time each night, skipping caffeinated beverages in the evenings and dimming the lights about an hour before bedtime.
5. Find your personal exercise equation.
Your heart needs about 150 minutes of exercise a week to keep it strong. It sounds overwhelming, but studies show that you can accumulate those minutes in any combination you like and still reap the health rewards. You can work out an hour at a time, in 10-minute bursts over the course of a day or in some other mix-and-match combo that suits your lifestyle. The goal is to fit in exercise whenever it’s most convenient for you so you’re more likely to stick with it.
From the Editors of Healthy Starts Made Simple