How to Improve Your Heart Health Naturally
American Heart Month may take place in February, but it’s really an annual reminder that protecting your heart is a year-round job. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but making a few simple changes can greatly lower your risk. Walking, for example, can reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular events by 31%, some research indicates.
To better safeguard your heart, Antonio J. Chamoun, MD, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Brandywine Hospital, shared the top five tips he gives his cardiology patients. Read up below on the changes that can make a difference.
Eat the Mediterranean way.
“It’s not just the calories, it’s the types of foods you eat,” Dr. Chamoun says. He steers patients towards the fruits, vegetables, seafood and whole grains that make up a Mediterranean-style diet and away from red and processed meat, sugary snacks, refined carbohydrates and other “junk food.”
“Too much of that is going to lead to metabolic abnormalities like type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides and potentially high cholesterol, too,” he says. All three of those conditions can raise your risk for heart disease. What’s more, elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels usually have no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know about them is by visiting your healthcare provider.
Your new goal: Spend at least 150 minutes each week doing moderate exercise, the amount recommended by the American Heart Association. So what counts as moderate exercise? “Dancing, gardening, activities that typically raise your heart rate but if you’re in a setting with company, you can still carry a conversation,” Dr. Chamoun says. After working your way up, more aerobic activities such as jogging and swimming can also benefit your health.
Build some muscle.
While getting in more cardio can reduce cardiovascular risk, so can strength training. “When you have more muscle, you’re going to burn more calories,” Dr. Chamoun explains. That metabolic boost can help if you’re overweight, another risk factor for heart disease.
Head to bed earlier.
While diet and exercise form a key part of the equation for better health, don’t ignore sleep. “Studies show that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night can increase your chances of having type 2 diabetes and developing high blood pressure,” Dr. Chamoun says.
If you wake up feeling less than rested, talk to your doc. Obstructive sleep apnea, which affects many of Dr. Chamoun’s patients, can diminish your ZZZ’s and increase your risk for arrhythmias — and the condition is often underdiagnosed.
Take a few minutes.
If you can spare five-or-so minutes every couple of hours to get centered, do it. Try using a deep-breathing app on your phone or just inhale and exhale slowly on your own. “Meditation and mindfulness exercises will certainly help with anxiety and blood pressure control,” says Dr. Chamoun, “and keep you focused on taking care of yourself.”
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