Comprehensive Guide: How to Improve Heart Health for a Healthy Life

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10 min read Updated on October 17, 2023

Your heart is at the center of your overall health, making it important to stay proactive in keeping it in top shape.

There are many ways you can support your heart health, most of which are rather simple lifestyle changes – watching what you eat, exercising, and breaking bad habits, among many others.

In this comprehensive guide, we will define heart disease and provide you with the knowledge needed to help you improve your heart health.

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Understanding Heart Disease and Risk Factors

Woman taking a break after a workout and holding her chest

Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, is a broad term for a number of conditions affecting the heart and/or blood vessels and is a leading cause of death worldwide.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common heart disease in the United States. It blocks the blood flow to the heart, either partially or completely, and is usually caused by high cholesterol levels, one of the leading risk factors for heart disease.

Some of the other most common heart diseases include:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Arrhythmia

Each of these conditions affects the heart in different ways, but they all have serious implications for overall health and well-being.

Heart disease can develop due to a variety of factors, with lifestyle choices playing a significant role. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels, and smoking are the leading risk factors for heart diseases like heart attack and stroke, and almost half of people in the United States have at least one of them.

The risk of heart disease can also be increased by diabetes, being overweight or obese, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Since lifestyle choices play a crucial role in the development of heart disease, the risk of developing one can be reduced by making a few lifestyle modifications, but more on this later.

Certain heart diseases, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, can be inherited. If there is a family history of heart disease, make sure to consult your doctor on ways to keep your heart healthy.

What’s more, the risk of heart disease increases with age, with people over 65 being much more likely to develop heart disease than those younger than them.

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Adopting a Heart-Healthy Diet

A happy woman in the kitchen making a salad

Nutrition plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy heart and preventing heart disease. A number of risk factors of heart disease can be prevented by eating more nutrient-rich food and abstaining from heavily processed products.

Let’s take a deeper look at the impact of diet on the heart.

The role of nutrition in heart health

Poor diet is a common risk factor for heart disease. Consuming too much saturated fats, for instance, has been shown to increase LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol levels in your blood. High amounts of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of certain heart diseases.

Sodium, a common ingredient in pre-packaged meals, has been shown to increase blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack.

What’s more, people who consume lots of high-sugar products, particularly ones with added sugar, are also at a higher risk of heart disease.

On the contrary, a well-balanced diet can do wonders for your heart. Cutting down on saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar alone can prevent the development of certain heart diseases.

Key dietary recommendations for heart health

According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet can promote heart health. A healthy diet can be defined as a rounded and well-balanced diet that emphasizes the consumption of:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains and whole grain products
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Lean meat
  • Fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils such as olive oil and avocado oil
  • High-fiber foods

On a heart-healthy diet, you should avoid or, at the very least, limit:

  • Saturated fats (present in pork, beef, poultry, cheese, ice cream, coconut, and palm oil)
  • Sodium
  • Added sugars
  • Red meat
  • Alcohol

Most of all, you should avoid heavily processed, pre-packaged food, as it usually contains high amounts of sodium and added sugars, both of which have been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease.

Avoiding these types of food may lower cholesterol, especially if they were a big part of your diet prior.

Meal planning tips for a heart-healthy diet

Planning your meals a day or a week ahead of time is an excellent way to ensure you’re following a rounded and well-balanced diet. Creating a meal plan can help you choose nutrient-rich ingredients, avoid added sugars, limit your intake of pre-packaged food, and, most importantly, reduce the amount of stress that comes with trying to eat healthy.

Mobile apps, such as Cardi Health, offer an easy and convenient way to do this. Cardi Health is a mobile app designed to support your efforts toward a healthier heart and comes with a personalized, heart-healthy meal plan.

Meal planning can be a game changer; however, there are many other strategies you can try to ensure you eat heart-healthy meals, such as:

  • Reading nutrition labels to look for added sugar and saturated fat
  • Cooking at home
  • Practicing mindful eating

Regular Physical Activity for a Healthy Heart

A happy man and woman running and smiling

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body. It not only promotes weight loss but also supports your overall well-being. Most importantly, maintaining regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Let’s dive in and have a deeper look at the impact of physical activity on the heart.

Benefits of physical activity for heart health

If you exercise regularly, you are at a lower risk of heart disease. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, you need to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.

This can be broken down into manageable sessions, such as exercising 30 minutes a day every weekday to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Sounds doable, right?

Maintaining a regular exercise routine can help you:

  • Control high blood pressure
  • Increase HDL cholesterol levels
  • Improve circulation
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Simply put, regular exercise can reduce the risk factors for developing heart disease.

If you don’t exercise much, exercising every day may seem daunting at first. Here are a few recommendations for making it easier to start.

Key exercise recommendations for heart health

How to start exercising for a healthy heart and overall well-being? Here are a few tips:

  • Start slowly – you don’t want to overextend yourself, or else you’ll burn out before you’ve even started. Begin by incorporating light, low-impact physical activities such as walking, dancing, or practicing pilates.
  • Warm up and cool down – before starting any workout session, take 5–10 minutes to warm up your muscles to reduce stiffness and prepare them for exercise.
  • Set up a routine – planning out your workouts can help you stick to them. Staying consistent with your exercise is essential to reaping health benefits for your heart.

Planning your workouts has never been easier with the help of mobile apps like Cardi Health. It can help you create your own personalized workout plan in just a few minutes, taking out the guesswork of what exercises are good for your heart.

Aerobic exercise for heart health

Aerobic exercise is more commonly known as cardio – rhythmic physical activity that elevates your heart rate. Some of the most popular aerobic exercises include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Hiking

There are a number of aerobic exercises you can do in the comfort of your home. Some examples include:

  • Running in place
  • Jumping jacks
  • Burpees
  • Jumping rope
  • HIIT

Exercises provided above are sure to increase your heart rate and can be easily incorporated into any workout routine.

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Strength training and resistance exercises

While the foundation of your exercise regime should consist of aerobic exercises, strength and resistance training can also be incorporated to help to keep your heart healthy.

Strength training is an exercise that’s done against some kind of resistance. It can be done with free weights, such as dumbbells, resistance bands, wrist and ankle weights, or using your own body weight.

This type of training also increases your heart rate; however, your heart rate won’t be as high as it would be if you were doing cardio.

Some examples of strength training exercises include:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Plank
  • Bridges
  • Shoulder presses

These exercises can be done with or without free weights. Your best bet is to introduce additional equipment when the exercise becomes too easy.

Other Lifestyle Changes to Support Heart Health

A happy woman making a heart from her hands

Here are a few strategies you can use to support your efforts in keeping your heart healthy.

Quitting smoking for a healthy heart

Healthy habits, such as eating a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, are sure to improve your health and overall well-being. Breaking a bad habit can do just as much in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease. It damages blood vessels, increases blood pressure, and raises LDL cholesterol levels.

Even secondhand smoke can be detrimental to your health. Secondhand smoke exposure has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer.

How to quit smoking? Try some of these strategies that have been shown to help people quit smoking:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (patches and gum)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Consulting a primary care provider, who may be able to prescribe medications specifically for those trying to quit smoking

After quitting for a year, your risk of experiencing a heart attack will drop by half when comparing it to individuals who are still smoking.

Managing stress for heart health

Stress can put a strain on your heart. When you are under stress, your body releases cortisol. High levels of this hormone have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which increase the risk for heart disease.

Finding ways to manage stress is important for a healthy heart and a happy life. Here are a few strategies you can adopt to lower your stress levels:

  • Practice deep breathing techniques
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Journal
  • Go for a slow walk

Most importantly, find something that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you reduce stress every day.

Maintaining a healthy weight for a healthy heart

As we’ve already mentioned, being overweight or obese greatly increases the risk of heart disease. If you’re overweight or obese, it’s crucial to prepare and follow a plan to lose weight in order to reduce the risk of heart disease.

There are many ways to do this, with diet and exercise being the most important aspects to consider.

Cardi Health can help you lose weight by providing you with a personalized meal and workout plan based on your individual situation and personal preferences.

Regular Health Monitoring and Medical Care

Doctor checking a patient's blood pressure

Keeping your heart healthy goes beyond lifestyle modifications. Regular heart health checkups can help detect potential issues with your heart early, preventing the development of heart disease and maintaining good overall health.

During a heart check, your doctor will run a number of tests to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. It’s important to monitor these aspects of your health as they’re some of the major risk factors for heart disease.

Remember, your health is too precious to be left to chance. Make sure to consult with your doctor and schedule regular heart health checkups.

Start managing your heart health now!

Find out what works for you with this 60sec quiz.
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What is heart disease?

Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, refers to conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels.

What are the primary risk factors for heart disease?

High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels, and smoking are leading risk factors, with lifestyle choices such as poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption also playing a role.

How does age influence heart disease risk?

The risk of heart disease increases with age, especially for people over 65.

What role does genetics play in heart disease?

Certain heart diseases, like familial hypercholesterolemia, can be inherited, making it vital for individuals with a family history to consult a doctor about heart health.

Key Takeaways

A combination of lifestyle modifications, including a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, can help you improve your heart health and reduce the risk of developing heart disease, such as heart attack or stroke.

Make sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. You can drink alcohol once in a while but avoid its excessive consumption.

Getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week is another important aspect of a healthy heart. Exercises that increase your heart rate can help you avoid weight gain, reduce stress, and support your health and overall well-being.

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Robertas Pranevicius is a medical advisor at Cardi Health who earned his Master’s degree and cardiology residency from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences. He specializes in interventional cardiology and performs both diagnostic and therapeutic invasive procedures. In recent years, he has focused on structural heart disease treatment, such as transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

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Manage your heart health now

Find out what works best for you with this 60sec quiz and get your personalized heart health plan.

Take the quiz

Take part in our 60sec quiz and get a heart health plan tailored just for you.

Take the quiz