The heart is a vital human organ, working day and night to pump blood throughout the body. Its healthy function is essential for life, as the blood it circulates carries nutrients, oxygen, fuel for energy, hormones, and wastes. Sadly, 1 in 4 deaths in America each year is a result of heart disease. In light of these statistics, it’s important to make sure to support heart health to ensure a long, enjoyable, and vibrant life. Thankfully, there are many simple and effective ways to do so that will also benefit other systems in the body. (1)
1. Stop Smoking For Heart Health
One of the most damaging habits for heart health is smoking. Smoking affects all aspects of the body, including the lungs, blood vessels, and heart. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that harm blood cells, damaging the function and structure of the heart over time and contributing to dangerous plaque build-up in the arteries. This occurs whether someone is a “light” or “occasional” smoker or not.
The best way to lower the risk of developing heart disease is to stop smoking–and never start if you haven’t. Quitting smoking can also reverse heart damage. While it can be difficult to quit, it’s vital to supporting heart health. (2)
2. For A Healthier Heart, Get Moving
Maintaining an active lifestyle and keeping the blood pumping is key to supporting heart health. Studies show that a sedentary lifestyle relates to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Regardless of age or weight, getting up in between tasks at the office, or taking a break from the couch is important to stay healthy. Taking a brisk walk, playing in the backyard, or doing household chores are easy and effective ways to engage the heart. Experts suggest 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) each week. (3, 4)
3. Eat A Healthy Diet, Support Heart Health
What we put into our bodies can greatly affect overall health. Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the easiest and most effective ways to support the heart. A varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products is ideal. Focus on nutrient-dense foods (like fish and legumes) as opposed to high-calorie fast foods and drinks. Fish is especially beneficial, as it contains omega-3 fatty acids. (4)
4. Limit Salt Intake For A Healthier Heart
Along with eating a diet full of nutrient-dense foods, limiting salt intake can support heart health. Because processed foods contain high levels of salt, their overabundant consumption can be detrimental. Studies show that limiting salt intake to 3g per day would significantly reduce annual cases of coronary heart disease by 60,000-120,000. Paying attention to salt intake–especially on prepackaged foods–can be very beneficial. Additionally, replacing salt with other herbs and spices keeps the flavor without sacrificing health. (5)
5. Good Oral Hygiene Supports Heart Health
Research suggests that maintaining healthy teeth and gums can have a positive effect on heart health. Some studies have shown that an increase in certain oral bacteria can get into the bloodstream, causing inflammation. This inflammation can, in turn, increase the risk of heart problems. Brushing teeth a minimum of twice per day, regular flossing, and twice-yearly checkups can keep the mouth healthy. (6)
6. For A Healthier Heart, A Trimmer Waist
Losing weight, especially around the gut, can help support heart health and reduce strain on vital organs. A study showed that “central obesity”–where fat is accumulated in the midsection–increases blood pressure and unhealthy fat levels in the blood. Exercising and reducing calories can help shed weight in this area, minimizing the risk of heart problems. (7)
7. Lower Stress Levels Can Support Heart Health
Chronic stress, anger, and anxiety can increase the risk of heart problems, including stroke. Reducing stress has shown to support heart health; maintaining a sunny disposition, however, actually keeps the body working well. This of course doesn’t mean humans need to be happy every moment, as adversity is a part of life. Rather, finding pleasure and happiness in small things–like a walk in nature or practicing a favorite hobby–can reduce the burden of anxiety on the body. (8)
8. Support Heart Health, Eat Dark Chocolate
Research shows that eating small portions of dark chocolate can support heart health. Cocoa contains polyphenols, compounds that produce an inflammation balancing effect in the body. Choose chocolate that is higher in cocoa and lower in sugar for the best benefits, and only consume a square or two every so often. (9)
9. Spend Time With A Pet For A Happy Heart
Many scientific studies have shown that blood pressure lowers when petting a dog. Interacting with a pet can have a calming effect on the body and mind, contributing to overall well being. Dog owners have also been shown to experience less cardiovascular stress during stressful times. (10)
10. Supplement With Medicinal Mushrooms And Modified Citrus Pectin
Adding supplements to a healthy diet can have a significant impact on heart health. For example, modified citrus pectin (MCP) has been shown to reduce inflammation by inhibiting Galectin-3. Because Galectin-3 promotes heart dysfunction, MCP can help support heart health. (11)
Another supplement with proven heart benefits is medicinal mushrooms, specifically cordyceps sinensis. These mushrooms contain compounds that support heart health, as well as a variety of other systems in the body. They can also reduce inflammation, preventing a chain reaction that could induce oxidative stress. (12)
- Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2020;141(9). doi:10.1161/cir.0000000000000757
- Smoking and Your Heart. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/smoking-and-your-heart. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Young DR;Hivert MF;Alhassan S;Camhi SM;Ferguson JF;Katzmarzyk PT;Lewis CE;Owen N;Perry CK;Siddique J;Yong CM; ; Sedentary Behavior and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27528691/. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Bibbins-Domingo K, Al. E, Author AffiliationsFrom the Departments of Medicine (K.B.-D., et al. Projected Effect of Dietary Salt Reductions on Future Cardiovascular Disease: NEJM. New England Journal of Medicine. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0907355. Published February 18, 2010. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Oral Health & Risk for CV Disease. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11264-oral-health–risk-for-cv-disease. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Coutinho T, Goel K, Sá DCde, et al. Central Obesity and Survival in Subjects With Coronary Artery Disease. JACC. https://www.onlinejacc.org/content/57/19/1877. Published May 10, 2011. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Happiness & health. News. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/. Published February 19, 2014. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Khan N, Khymenets O, Urpí-Sardà M, et al. Cocoa Polyphenols and Inflammatory Markers of Cardiovascular Disease. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/2/844/htm. Published February 21, 2014. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Publishing HH. Having a dog can help your heart – literally. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/having-a-dog-can-help-your-heart–literally. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Ibarrola J, Matilla L, Martínez-Martínez E, et al. Myocardial Injury After Ischemia/Reperfusion Is Attenuated By Pharmacological Galectin-3 Inhibition. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-46119-6. Published July 3, 2019. Accessed October 20, 2020.
- Valverde ME, Hernández-Pérez T, Paredes-López O. Edible mushrooms: improving human health and promoting quality life. International journal of microbiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4320875/. Published 2015. Accessed October 20, 2020.