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10 ways to protect your heart

Healthy habits can go a long way in protecting your heart. Adopting these 10 habits can help you lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—and they can help you feel great, to boot!

1. Hit the sack

Getting enough sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. If you regularly wake up unrefreshed despite a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor about the possibility of a sleep disorder, which may increase your risk for heart disease.

2. Play a game

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), physical activity helps you lose weight, which makes it easier for your heart to work efficiently and improves your quality of life. Set a date for racquetball, Frisbee, badminton, croquet, golf—you might not even notice you’re exercising.

3. Go nuts

Squirrel away a handful of nuts or a packet of squeezable almond butter for a powerful snack that’s rich in heart-healthy omega-3s. Walnuts and almonds pack the biggest punch, but hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios can boost HDL (good) cholesterol levels too. 

4. Stop smoking

Smoking damages your heart and lungs. Plus, smokers are more likely to develop atherosclerosis—buildup of fatty substances in the arteries—which can lead to coronary heart disease and stroke. Quit smoking and you’ll have a higher tolerance for heart-healthy physical activity too.

5. Sit and knit

Too much stress can wreak havoc on your health, contributing to high blood pressure and making the heart work harder—potentially leading to a stroke. The AHA recommends sewing, knitting, and crocheting among many stress-management techniques. 

6. Shake the salt habit

Sodium increases blood pressure, which taxes the heart. Hide the table salt and control ingredients by cooking meals at home. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. The AHA recommends further limiting it to no more than 1,500 mg.

7. Consider a med

High blood pressure is the most significant factor for stroke risk. While eating right, losing weight, and cutting back on salt can help, some people are genetically predisposed to hypertension. Ask your doc if a medication might help control yours.

8. Savor your meals

If you’re over your healthy weight, losing as little as 5-10 pounds may help lower your blood pressure. One technique that may help? Eating mindfully. It gives your brain the time to register fullness, which can help you eat less.

9. Eat more fiber

Foods rich in fiber may help lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Look for heart-healthy and nutrient-dense recipes that incorporate whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

10. Get a dog

Or volunteer at the Humane Society. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pet ownership can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, adding to a heart-healthy lifestyle. Plus, petting an animal can lower stress hormones. In fact, a National Institutes of Health-funded study showed that heart attack survivors with dogs lived longer than those without.

 

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