1) EAT HEART-HEALTHY FOOD
“A mountain of scientific research has proven that a delicious Mediterranean diet protects against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and can even help with weight loss,” says Janet Bond Brill, PhD,RD, LDN, author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease.
That, says Brill, is a plant-focused diet loaded with fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seafood. “Add a splash of flavorful olive oil and a glass of good red wine, and this diet is a cinch to follow over a lifetime without any deprivation.”
2) SUPPLEMENT WITH PHYTOSTEROLS
“Phytosterols masquerade as cholesterol and are absorbed into the intestinal cells in lieu of cholesterol—hence cholesterol is excreted—a highly effective dietary strategy for reducing circulating LDL [‘bad’] cholesterol,” Brill says. “Try phytosterolfortified products such as tub margarine, orange juice, and yogurt.”
She also likes Nature Made’s CholestOff supplement. “I recommend two 900-mg caplets three times a day with meals.”
3) WALK FOR HEART FITNESS
Fitness expert Andrea Metcalf, author of Naked Fitness: The Proven 28 Day Lifestyle Program for a Slimmer, Fitter, Pain Free Body, says, “Walking complements heart health. Aim for 30 minutes, which can be broken down into three 10-minute walks, before breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
4) PUMP IT UP
“Try vigorous exercise like jumping rope or running stairs for 10 minutes. Your arteries are like gutters on the house filled with leaves; whether I run the water at low pressure for 30 minutes—like walking—or I blast out the leaves on high pressure for 10 minutes—like jumping rope—the gutters still get cleaned,” Metcalf says.
5) MEASURE YOUR MILES
Metcalf recommends using an S2H pedometer or S2H Replay Sport Band. “These offer accountability, and your activity gains points toward gift cards from favorite retailers like Target, iTunes, Best Buy, and Netflix.”
6) GET GOOD CHEMISTRY
“Exercise also increases feel-good hormones like endorphins for stress relief and lowers the stress-response hormone cortisol, which is linked to heart disease,” Metcalf says. Working out also increases healthy HDL cholesterol while decreasing the harmful LDL that contributes to blood clots.
7) CULTIVATE HEART-HEALTHY EMOTIONS
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, says, “Mental health is as big a predictor of heart health as are lifestyle choices and family history. Work stress, relationship stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness all increase cardiovascular risk factors like elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin resistance, and inflammation.”
8) JUST BREATHE
“Stress is not just in your brain; it’s a full body response that includes increased heart rate and blood pressure, dumping fats and sugars into the bloodstream,” McGonigal says. “This makes chronic stress as toxic to the body as eating a steady diet of cheeseburgers, doughnuts, and potato chips.”
Slow your breathing to control stress. “Exhale slowly and completely—through pursed lips works well—and then inhale fully through the nose,” McGonigal says. “Even if you can’t control the chaos in your life, you can minimize the toll it takes on your health.”
Deep, slow breathing, even for a few minutes a day, reduces stress, increases self-control, and improves heart rate variability, a major marker of cardiovascular health. “Combine it with yoga or meditation for even more benefit,” McGonigal adds.
“Nourishing your emotional heart by connecting with loved ones reduces stress and cardiovascular risk,” says McGonigal. “Pets work as well—and sometimes better!—than humans.” Heart-healthy social connection includes people in religious communities, classes, sports clubs, and support groups.
Making a positive contribution and feeling in charge of work that matters to you is a major protective factor for heart health. Volunteer work, creative projects, and even gardening can do the trick.