Heart disease, also commonly called cardiovascular disease, refers to a variety of heart conditions but is most commonly referring to a narrowing or blockage in the blood vessels. Nearly 30 million American adults live with heart disease today and it continues to be the number one cause of death in United States. That means that 1/10 adults are diagnosed with heart disease. In spite of this reality, there are a lot of lifestyle changes you can make, or maybe you already do, to help ensure a healthy heart.

Unlike other diseases like cancer or hereditary diseases, your lifestyle plays a big role in your overall heart health, meaning you have the ability to make your heart healthier.

Your Diet

According to The American Heart Association, “A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease.” Mayo Clinic lists 8 tips for a heart healthy diet:

  1. Control your portion size: eating too much leads to calorie overload. A heart healthy diet is one that is nutrient rich, not calorie rich.
  2. Eat more fruits and vegetables: Focus on foods with high nutrient content and low calories such as vegetables and fruits.
  3. Select whole grains: whole grains are a good fiber source and contain more nutrients than other grain products like white bread.
  4. Limit unhealthy fats: try to limit the amount of saturated and trans-fat in your diet.
  5. Choose low-fat protein sources: meats and dairy have a high protein content. When deciding which to buy choose the products with less fat such as skim milk or lean meats.
  6. Reduce the sodium in your food: high sodium intake increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Be careful not to eat too much canned or processed food, which tend to have a high sodium content.
  7. Plan ahead, create daily menus: plan ahead and pick healthy choices for your upcoming week in order to make your diet more heart friendly.
  8. Allow yourself an occasional treat: food is to be enjoyed! Make sure to enjoy it in moderation.

Vitamin D & Exercise

Diet as well as exercise are the two biggest lifestyle factors that impact your overall health as well as your heart health. In fact, a recent study showed that getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and exercise could reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by 23 percent. Researchers found that exercise levels positively corresponded to Vitamin D levels, meaning that the more they exercised, the higher vitamin D levels they had. Both are crucial in reducing heart disease risk.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 5 days of at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise and 2 days of moderate-to-high intensity strength training activities each week.

Exercise Tips

Here are a few helpful tips to help you incorporate exercise into your life:

  1. Find exercise that fits you and your interests (biking, hiking, gardening)
  2. Bring a friend along with you: this will increase accountability and make exercise more enjoyable.
  3. Make it a habit: once exercise becomes a habit it won’t seem like work.
  4. Keep going: you might miss a day or two or even have a bad week. That is fine. It’s never too late to try again.
  5. If you have concerns about incorporating exercise into your lifestyle, consult your primary care provider.
  6. Get adequate amounts of sleep. A recent study by the European Heart Journal showed that those who got less sleep are 48 percent more prone to heart disease. Seven to eight hours are recommended to promote cardiovascular health.

Your heart is an amazing organ that is constantly at work and a little intentionality can go a long ways. If you are worried about your heart health or just want to improve it, start today by implementing one or more of the diet and exercise tips.