10 Heart Healthy Habits and Tips for American Heart Month

man's arm taking a blood pressure reading wearing a blue shirt.

Heart disease — a term that includes several heart conditions, the most common of which is Coronary Artery Disease — is the leading cause of death in the United States. The biggest risk factor for heart disease and stroke is hypertension or high blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is focussing on hypertension as part of American Heart Month, an awareness campaign that takes place every February. The reason for their focus is the prevalence of high blood pressure and the challenges of managing it. According to the CDC, 70% of Americans over age 65 have high blood pressure. Approximately half of those with hypertension struggle to keep it under control.

We’re gathered 10 tips and habits for a healthier heart.

1.    Know Your Family History

You are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack if someone in your family has had those medical issues. Ask your parents, grandparents and siblings about their disease history, then make sure your doctor is aware. A family history is not a guarantee you’ll have high blood pressure, it’s more of a reminder to live healthy in the shadow of risk factors.

2.    Track Your Blood Pressure

It’s important to know your blood pressure stats, especially if you are living with hypertension. The CDC advises people to track their blood pressure between doctor visits. The best way to track blood pressure is with an automatic, upper-arm, cuff-style monitor. Ask your doctor for recommendations or visit validatebp.org.

3.    Choose Fruits and Veggies

Do your heart a favor by including plenty of fruits and vegetables into your diet. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients needed for healthy blood pressure. Leafy greens like kale and spinach are great for the ticker. Berries, rich in antioxidants, are also must-haves for a heart-conscious eater.

4.    Pick High Potassium Foods

A healthy heart loves potassium. A diet high in potassium and low in sodium is ideal for good blood pressure. Statistics show Americans don’t consume enough potassium, a surprising fact when you see how many foods have it.

  • Fruit like bananas, oranges and cantaloupes
  • Vegetables like broccoli, sweet potatoes, peas, zucchini and cucumbers
  • Low-fat dairy products like skim milk and yogurt
  • Fish like tuna, cod and halibut
  • Beans like lentils, kidney beans and pinto beans
  • Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat flour

5.    Eat Heart-Healthy Protein

While many of us fall below the recommended daily intake of potassium, Americans generally eat more protein than they need on a daily basis. Your heart needs protein, but it’s important to remember a piece of salmon, a bowl of nuts and a medium rare-steak aren’t created equal. Legumes, nuts, fish and low-fat dairy are great sources of protein. Skinless poultry and lean cuts are recommended for meat eaters, while you should avoid processed meats, like the stuff you get at the deli counter.

6.    Cut Down the Salt

When your diet includes too much sodium, your body retains more water. For some, the increased water can stress the heart and blood vessels or cause blood pressure to spike. Traditional American diets tend to be higher in salt than recommended. Here are some ways to curb salt intake:

  • Avoid table salt
  • Choose low sodium, sodium-free or unsalted foods
  • Talk to your doctor about acceptable salt substitutes

7.    Cut Down Saturated Fat

Saturated fats primarily come from animal products like meat and dairy. Coconut and palm are also sources of saturated fat. Consuming high levels of saturated fat can add to your stroke and heart disease risk by raising the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. The American Heart Association suggests  people consume 5-6% of daily calories from saturated fats.

8.    Start an Exercise Routine

The CDC suggests adults get 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week. The recommendation averages out to 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. Find the right sport or hobby to fit your lifestyle and your exercise needs. Getting a buddy to join you on a new fitness journey is always easier than going it alone.

If you have limited mobility, check out some of these adaptive exercises you can incorporate into your routine.

9.    Maintain a Healthy Weight

People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of high blood pressure and the associated health risks. The CDC uses body mass index, or BMI, as a screening tool for potential disease risk. The metric is calculated based on height and weight. You can find out your BMI by using this BMI Calculator.

10.                      Help Others Live Healthy

Modeling a heart healthy lifestyle can help those around you. If you have a family member who is trying to manage their blood pressure, you can do the same, right by their side. Get active together by finding a physical activity that works for both of you, whether its aqua aerobics or regular walks. You can also shop and cook healthy food together.

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