Nearly all of us could take steps to boost our heart health, even if we live relatively healthy lives. Wondering what to do to improve yours?
The American Heart Association is simplifying the topic. In 2010, a team of cardiovascular experts put together “Life’s Simple 7,” which was a seven-step plan for keeping your heart healthy.
But as time goes on, what we know about our health changes and evolves. That’s the case with heart health, and as a result, the American Heart Association recently turned the seven tips into eight—now known as “Life’s Essential 8.”
So, what should you be focusing on when it comes to your heart? Let’s break it down.
What to Focus on for Improved Heart Health
While your heart plays a vitally important role in overall health, taking good care of it isn’t overly complicated. Many of the basic habits that help promote good health in general will also keep your heart in good shape.
Wondering where to begin? Start here:
- Aim for Healthy Eating
While it’s probably not realistic to expect yourself to eat healthy all the time, doing so at least 70 to 80% of the time is a great goal. What’s a “healthy diet” look like? Fill your plate up with fruits and vegetables, including a wide variety of colors. Each different hue offers distinct nutrients and minerals, so eating the rainbow (the non-Skittle variety) is a great strategy. Supplement those veggies and fruits with lean protein, like chicken or fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. Limit your intake of added sugar, excess sodium, and saturated fats, which are commonly found in processed foods.
- Move Your Body More
The second essential, as prescribed by the American Heart Association, is to be physically active. Living a sedentary lifestyle by spending lots of time sitting or lying down can be detrimental to your heart health. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week or 75 minutes of strenuous activity. But that’s simply a baseline—the “at least” wording is important. Beyond formal physical activity, work to get up and moving more in your daily life.
- Don’t Smoke
Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death among Americans, and it’s particularly dangerous for your heart. But don’t simply put down the cigarettes—e-cigarettes and vaping are every bit as dangerous, even though they’re presented as healthier options. Talk with your primary care provider about a strategy for quitting. Your heart will thank you.
- Prioritize Getting Quality Sleep
This one about sleep duration is the new addition to the heart health tips! Recent research has confirmed a connection between getting enough sleep and staying heart-healthy. Adults should aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you aren’t consistently getting enough sleep, take a good look at your sleep hygiene habits, including electronic use before bed and the temperature of your bedroom.
- Take Steps to Get to (or Maintain) a Healthy Weight
There is truly no one-size-fits-all number when it comes to a weight that’s healthy for you. Talk with your provider about a good weight target based on your age, gender, and activity level, among other factors. Losing even a few pounds can be beneficial to your heart, and following tips one and two can help you reach your goals.
- Maintain Normal Cholesterol Levels
There are two primary types of cholesterol we’re talking about here—low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is considered “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is considered “good” cholesterol. The bottom line? You want your LDL to be low and your HDL to be high! A high level of LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for developing heart disease and blockages in the heart’s blood vessels.
- Watch Your Blood Sugar
Diabetes is another risk factor for heart disease, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your blood glucose level. When your blood glucose (or blood sugar) is high, it can damage your heart and other parts of the body, including your kidneys, eyes, and nerves. If you’re at risk for diabetes, watch out for common signs of the condition, such as an increased thirst and need to urinate. But every person, regardless of risk, should have their blood sugar checked at least annually as part of a checkup—anything higher than 100 is considered elevated.
- Work to Keep Blood Pressure Low
Many factors can cause your blood pressure to rise, including the excess stress that many Americans are facing these days. But it’s important to take steps to keep your blood pressure in a normal range. When your blood pressure is high, it means that your blood is hitting your artery walls with a good deal of force, which can damage them over time. Check your blood pressure regularly, aiming for 120/80 or lower.