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7 Lifestyle Changes That Support Heart Health
[Updated February 2023]
You can improve your heart health with these seven lifestyle and dietary changes:
1. Avoid trans fats.
Trans fats like hydrogenated oil increase the amount of bad cholesterol in the body and increase inflammation. Overconsumption of saturated fats may contribute to the accumulation of plaque in the bloodstream. Avoiding trans fats completely, and moderating saturated fat directly reduces their negative impact on your cardiovascular system. Examples of foods with saturated fat are:
- poultry, especially with skin
- beef fat (tallow)
- lard and cream
- ice cream
- palm oil
- palm kernel oil
- some baked and fried foods
2. Practice good dental hygiene
You may not associate good dental health with heart health, but the two are connected. People with gum disease are often at risk of heart disease. And, while research in this area is ongoing, many studies show the bacteria in the mouth affected by gum disease can move into the bloodstream, increasing the amount of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. These changes may in turn, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Learn more about the link between gum and heart disease in this Harvard Medical School article.
3. Get the Right Amount of Sleep
Sleep is a critical part of maintaining a healthy heart. One study examining 3,000 adults over 45 years of age found that participants who slept less than 6 hours a night were roughly two times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those who slept 6-8 hours.
It isn’t entirely clear why sleep deprivation is detrimental to heart health, but scientists understand that sleep deprivation causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, such as blood pressure, glucose metabolism, and inflammation.
Check out our post on natural sleep supplements for The National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep hours by age.
4. Reduce your salt intake
Consuming too much salt creates an osmotic gradient that pulls water into the bloodstream, resulting in high blood pressure, which weakens and can potentially damage the walls of blood vessels. As a result, the heart needs to work harder to pump blood through the body.
So how much salt should you consume? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 mg/day of sodium for adults.
5. Avoid smoking at all costs.
If you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your heart is to quit. Studies show people exposed to regular secondhand smoke have a 25% to 30% higher chance of developing heart disease. There are many resources to help you quit. Here is a list of ten ways to resist tobacco cravings.
The American Heart Association states that exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths, and roughly 7,300 lung cancer deaths per year. There’s no doubt quitting smoking is difficult, but the benefits are worth it.
6. Don’t sit for too long
Research has suggested that remaining seated for long periods of time is bad for your health, no matter how fit you are. The combined results of several observational studies with over 800,000 participants discovered those who sat the most experienced an associated 147% increase in cardiovascular events, and a 90% increase in death caused by these events.
Experts say it’s important to move throughout the day. Trade the elevator for the stairs, take a few short walks throughout the day, and––if you work a desk job––consider using a standing desk.
7. Maintain mental health
Stress and anger are a physical, as well as psychological burden. These factors can increase your likelihood of having a stroke. Some ways to maintain mental health are practicing meditation, mindfulness, building social connections, and talking to a mental health professional.
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