As COVID-19 sweeps across the world, we’ve seen firsthand how vulnerable the heart is to illness and infection. The good news is that you hold the health of your heart in your very own hands. If you’re wondering what you can do to keep your heart healthy, wonder no more. Here are some simple dietary and lifestyle adjustments you can make to keep your blood pressure low, high cholesterol at bay, and heart disease away.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Heart Healthy: Eat a Healthy Diet
Healthy eating can lower your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, diabetes, or being overweight or obese.
Cut Back on These Foods
Sodium in salt causes your body to hang onto water as a way to flush out the excess. The extra water puts pressure on your heart and blood vessels and can cause your blood pressure to rise, which subsequently raises your risk of a cardiac event such as a heart attack.
The link between salt and heart disease is so great, in fact, that if every adult in the United States cut back their average salt intake by half a teaspoon a day, the number of people who develop coronary heart disease would go dramatically down (1).
The American Heart Association puts the sodium limit at 2,300 milligrams per day but urges adults not to eat more than 1,500 milligrams a day. To improve heart health, no more than 1000 milligrams a day is recommended.
In salt measurements this correlates to:
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 milligrams sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,140 milligrams sodium
And while that seems like a very small allowance, if you cut out processed foods and limit eating out at restaurants or fast food joints, you’ll be well on your way to slashing salt intake.
Sugar, both in the form of sweet treats like desserts and high-carb foods like rice, leads to weight gain, which in turn raises blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and blood cholesterol levels. Maintain a healthy weight and cut back on refined carbs (white bread and pasta!) opting for whole grains instead. Likewise, satisfy your sweet tooth with a cube of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and vitamin drenched fruits. Stay away from processed and packaged foods and beverages with added sugar.
Eating saturated fats to excess can greatly increase your cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Saturated fat hangs out in:
- Red meat
- Poultry with skin on
- Whole-fat dairy products
- Ice cream
- Coconut and palm oils
That doesn’t mean you have to forego these types of foods for good. According to the AHA, limit them to 5-6% of your daily calories.
Not all alcohol is bad. A moderate intake, especially of red wine, has even been linked to increased HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol that protects against artery damage and blood clots.
Too much alcohol consumption swings the other way, causing high blood pressure, damage to the heart muscle, and abnormal heart rhythms. Stick to the guidelines and drink no more than one drink a day if you are a woman and two drinks a day if you are a man.
Prevent Heart Disease with These Foods
Fruits and Vegetables
A heart-healthy diet is made up of an abundance of fruits and vegetables that deliver potassium to help lower blood pressure and soluble fiber to help lower bad cholesterol.
Leafy green veggies like spinach and kale are terrific sources of vitamin K, which helps promote proper blood clotting, and dietary nitrates that keep your blood vessels flexible.
Berries like strawberries and blueberries possess anthocyanins that help protect against inflammation and oxidative stress that can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system.
Avocados, olives, and their oils are rich in monounsaturated healthy fats that have been shown to help reduce blood lipid levels and lower the risk of heart disease. They are also packed with potassium for lower blood pressure and a lower risk of stroke.
Tomatoes are known for lycopene, an antioxidant with heart-protective properties, including the ability to raise HDL cholesterol levels, which in turn helps to remove the buildup of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries that causes heart disease.
Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower inflammation and improve cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure (2).
The AHA recommends eating two servings of heart-healthy fish a week:
- Atlantic mackerel
- Canned tuna
- Lake trout
Lean Proteins and EAAs
Essential amino acids (EAAs) make up the protein in dietary sources such as lean meats and dairy products. They are also the building blocks of our muscle tissues and act as neurotransmitters that influence our minds and our moods.
Dietary protein helps keep your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure, but the type of protein counts. Choose from the following healthy foods:
- Low-fat dairy products
Taking an EAA supplement can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome by lowering triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol as well as improving blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity (3). An essential amino acid supplement can also help preserve lean muscle mass and promote fat loss (4).
Amino Co scientists have patented the exact ratio of amino acids needed to induce these beneficial effects in Life, an active aging EAA supplement that improves blood lipid profiles and supports cardiovascular health.
Green and Black Tea
Polyphenols in green tea and black tea help improve blood vessel function, increase HDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and promote proper blood clotting. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that drinking 1-3 cups of green or black tea a day helps to lower your risk of heart disease and is also associated with lower rates of angina and heart attack (5).
What You Can Do to Keep Your Heart Healthy: Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
Smoking is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. Smoking damages your arterial linking, reduces blood oxygen levels, and elevates blood pressure. It also increases your risk of heart attack by double. Quitting your nicotine or tobacco habit is #1 when it comes to what you can do to keep your heart healthy.
The following resources can help you quit smoking:
- American Cancer Society (Quit for Life)
- American Lung Association (Lung HelpLine & Tobacco QuitLine)
- National Cancer Institute (Smokefree.gov)
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (BeTobaccoFree)
- Truth Initiative: Become an EX
- American Lung Association: Freedom From Smoking
- Nicotine Anonymous
The health of your heart depends on movement. A sedentary, couch-potato lifestyle is firmly linked to a higher risk of heart disease. You can increase your physical activity levels with any form of exercise you'd like: dancing, yoga, spin class, walking, climbing stairs, swimming, running...you name it!
Stress is tied to several different markers of heart disease:
- High cortisol levels
When we’re running on stress we are less likely to engage in heart-healthy lifestyle changes and more apt to smoke or be sedentary.
Managing stress is essential, but what works is different for everyone. Ways to destress include:
- Engaging in mindful exercise such as yoga or tai chi
- Taking breaks throughout the day
- Engaging in a hobby
- Making art
- Knitting or crocheting
- Finding reasons to laugh
- Getting a pet
What healthy living activities help you feel calm and more connected? Give yourself permission and time to engage in them!
Get Regular Checkups
It’s important to monitor your numbers, especially if you have a family history of heart disease. An annual heart checkup with your physician will give you a clear picture of your lipid levels, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. The best thing you can do to keep your heart healthy is to follow the advice of your primary care practitioner or cardiologist.