Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Focus on cutting back on processed foods, sugar, red meat, and foods high in saturated fat. Million hearts recommends a Mediterranean diet, which incorporates healthy fat sources, fruits, and vegetables. Research shows that following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 30%.
More comprehensive information and care guidelines can be read here.
Engage in Regular Physical Activity
Physical activity is crucial for maintaining a healthy heart and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The American Heart Association (AHA) and million hearts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week to improve heart health.
You can break up this time into shorter segments throughout the day since any physical activity provides benefits. Studies have shown that physically active individuals have a reduction in risk for:
- Coronary heart disease of ~30%
- Stroke of ~27%
- Hypertension of ~9%
- Type 2 Diabetes of ~27%
In addition to aerobic exercise, the AHA recommends performing resistance or strength training at least 2 non-consecutive days per week. Some benefits of strength training include:
|Increases lean muscle mass||Raises basal metabolic rate and aids weight control|
|Improves blood pressure||Strengthens heart muscles and improves heart functioning|
|Enhances blood sugar control||Makes cells more responsive to insulin|
By incorporating regular aerobic exercise and strength training into your routine, you can achieve significant reductions in your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. So start slowly and aim for those recommended activity levels to see real results.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese puts substantial stress on your heart and increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Losing excess weight, even a modest amount, can offer remarkable health benefits for your heart.
Research shows that losing just 5% to 10% of your total body weight is linked to:
- Lowers of 10 to 25 mmHg in systolic blood pressure
- Reduction in bad LDL cholesterol levels by 5 to 10%
- Decreased triglycerides levels by 15 to 20%
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight for heart health involves:
Creating a calorie deficit through a nutritious diet lower in calories
Exercising regularly, specifically aerobic exercise targeting fat loss
Focusing on weight loss sustainability by making permanent healthy lifestyle changes
Weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is recommended for long-term success. The key is setting realistic goals and making gradual changes you can stick with for the long haul.
Some effective strategies include:
- Tracking your calories and monitoring portions
- Increasing physical activity gradually
- Limiting added sugars and processed foods
- Choosing healthy snacks high in fiber and protein
- Engaging in stress management to prevent overeating due to stress
By following these tips and successfully losing 5% to 10% of your body weight, you put yourself on track to significantly improve your heart health and longevity. So make a plan, start small and work your way towards a healthier weight range step by step.
Quit Smoking for Good
Quitting smoking is arguably the single most significant lifestyle change a person can make to improve heart health. Within just a few years after quitting, risks for heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases decline dramatically:
Risk of heart attack drops to half that of a continued smoker 1-2 years after quitting
Risk of smoking-related stroke falls by around 50% within 2-5 years
Risk of developing peripheral artery disease is cut in half after just 1 year of not smoking
Those who stop smoking before the age of 40 can avoid over 90% of smoking-related health risks compared to continued smokers. This is because prolonged cigarette use causes extensive damage to cardiovascular function over time.
Upon quitting, the benefits of smoking cessation include:
Lowered blood pressure and reduced strain on the heart within 20 minutes
Improved blood circulation and oxygen intake thanks to fewer carbon monoxide levels
Reduced risk of blood clots and plaque buildup in arteries
Potential weight loss of 5-10 pounds per year without cigarettes’ appetite stimulation effect.
For those looking to quit, it’s critical to create a plan, enlist support and consider smoking cessation aids like:
- Nicotine patches, gum or medications
- Behavioral counseling ortext message programs
- Support groups or phone quitlines
For million hearts, smoking cessation is one of the primary recommendations. So if you still smoke, commit to quitting for good and talk to your doctor about resources that can help you make this life-saving change.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
While moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to some heart benefits, heavy drinking significantly elevates risks for high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
For optimal heart health, million hearts recommends limiting alcohol intake to:
No more than 1 drink per day for women
No more than 2 drinks per day for men
Excessive drinking beyond these amounts can negatively impact your heart in several ways:
Raises blood pressure levels over time, elevating risk of hypertension
Places extra strain on the heart muscle, potentially leading to cardiomyopathy
Increases triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels that build up in arteries
Interferes with medication effectiveness for conditions like hypertension
Contributes to weight gain which also burdens the cardiovascular system
Some of the immediate effects of excessive alcohol on the heart include:
Irregular heartbeat caused by nerve and electrolyte imbalance
Reduced heart muscle function and reduced heart rate
Impaired blood flow due to the widening of blood vessels
For those who do drink alcohol, the recommendations are to:
Stick to the maximum daily limits based on gender
Space out drinks and consume them with food to slow absorption
Choose wine or beer over spirits to minimize the healthiest impact
Avoid binge drinking or getting drunk, which confers the greatest heart risks
For optimal heart health, abstaining from alcohol altogether is the safest option. But if you do drink, limiting your intake and avoiding excess will help reduce your risk of heart disease and improve longevity.
Manage Stress Effectively
Excessive stress takes a significant toll on physical health, including your heart. Chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, inflammation and enlargement of the heart muscle. Over time, prolonged stress can increase risks for heart disease and heart attack.
The effects of stress on the heart include:
Elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate from heightened “fight or flight” adrenaline
Narrowing of artery walls due to inflammation triggered by stress hormones
Increased blood clotting from high levels of fibrinogen and other factors
Damaged heart cells from long-term elevated levels of cortisol
In order to maintain a healthy heart, it’s critical to effectively cope withand manage stress in your life. Million hearts recommends strategies like:
Deep breathing and meditation to promote relaxation and lower blood pressure
Regular exercise to release feel-good endorphins and relievebuilt-up tension
Adequate, high-quality sleep crucial for emotional regulation and recovery
Healthy eating habits instead of turning to comfort orjunk foods during stressful times
Talking with friends, family members or a therapist to gain supportand gain perspective
Practicing yoga or tai chi focusing on deep breathing, mindfulness and gentle movements
Developing andusing effective coping skills instead ofturning to unhealthy copingmechanisms.
While a certain amount of stress is inevitable, the key is equipping yourself withtools to keep it from becoming excessive or prolonged.Setting boundaries, prioritizing “me-time” and adopting ahobby you enjoy can also help manage stressin a healthy manner. By making lifestyle adjustmenst and developing positive coping habits,you put yourself on the path to decreasing hearthealth risks related to prolonged stress.
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Frequently Asked Question
How can I reduce my risk of heart disease and stroke through Million Hearts?
I can reduce my risk of heart disease and stroke through Million Hearts by eating healthy, being physically active, quitting smoking, and working with my doctor to control blood pressure and cholesterol.
How can workplaces create a culture of health with Million Hearts?
Workplaces can create a culture of health with Million Hearts by offering insurance coverage for preventive services, implementing smoke-free policies, and providing opportunities for physical activity.
How can I spread the word about Million Hearts in my community?
I can spread the word about Million Hearts by sharing social media posts, telling family and friends, and encouraging community organizations to get involved.
What can restaurants do to support the Million Hearts initiative?
Restaurants can support Million Hearts by promoting healthy menu options, reducing sodium and trans fats, implementing smoke-free policies, and limiting portion sizes.