6 Habits for a Heart-Healthy New Year

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How’s your heart health? You might think your heart is ticking along just fine...until it isn’t. 

A healthy heart beats about 100,000 times a day and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body. But if your heart isn’t healthy, it’s a lot harder for it to get the job done.

Did you know heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? It claims the lives of an estimated 650,000 people a year. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you want to improve your heart health in 2020, adopt these six heart-healthy habits:

1. Reduce stress

What’s stressing you out? Work, family, money, health issues? Figure out stress in your life is coming from, and do something about it. Ask for help. Talk to your boss, your doctor, clergy, or counselor. Even deep breathing, journaling, and medication can help. Research shows too much stress raises your risk for a heart attack.

2. Exercise

Your heart is a muscle. It needs to be challenged to prevent atrophy and keep it healthy and strong. And it’s easy. Be more active. Go for a walk. Hop on a bike. Play your favorite sport. Any activity that elevates your heart rate will help you burn calories and strengthen your cardiovascular system.

3. Check your blood pressure

If your blood pressure is 120/80 or higher you may have elevated or high blood pressure. Less than 120/80 is ideal. If you haven’t checked your blood pressure in a while, stop by a local pharmacy or grocery store with a station to check your blood pressure. The next time you visit the doctor, you’ll also get your blood pressure checked. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Taking steps to keep your blood pressure under control will protect your heart.

4. Get Your Family Medical History

Your risk for heart disease goes up if you have a family history of heart attack, stroke, or heart-related problems. Based on your family medical history, your doctor may recommend additional tests to identify any heart problems and take action to protect your health. Find out, and share the info with your doctor.

5. Know your cholesterol level

If you have high cholesterol, you wouldn’t know it. There aren’t any real symptoms. The most effective way to measure cholesterol is with a blood test. An annual biometric screening or wellness visit is a good idea. Here’s what healthy cholesterol levels should look like:

  • Total Cholesterol = Less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL (bad) Cholesterol = Less than 130 mg/dL
  • HDL (good) Cholesterol = 60 mg/dL or higher

If your cholesterol is higher than this, your doctor can recommend diet and lifestyle changes, and prescribe medication to lower blood pressure.

6. Eat heart-healthy foods

Ever wonder what a heart-healthy diet looks like? It’s pretty simple, according to nutrition writer and best-selling author Michael Pollan. “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

A heart-healthy diet mainly includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds, and legumes.

Looking for an easy way to follow a heart-healthy diet? Check out the menu of Low-Sodium meals.