Aim for a healthy weight.
Being overweight raises your risk for diabetes and high blood pressure, two risk factors for heart disease. Excess weight can also directly injure the heart. Scientists have linked obesity with high levels of troponin. This enzyme is released by heart muscle cells when they are damaged.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to lose a lot of weight to benefit your heart. Studies suggest losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight is enough to greatly improve your health.9 Still, setting out to lose weight can sometimes feel overwhelming, so start with small goals. Some ideas:
- Set a very specific, but doable, exercise goal. That could be walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You could do it all at once or break it up throughout the day.
- Eat more slowly. It can take 15 minutes or more to know you’re full.9 Eating slowly gives your brain a chance to catch up to your stomach.
- Eat foods that are high in fiber and protein and contain some healthy fats. These nutrients can help you feel fuller longer so you’re less likely to want seconds. Good fat sources include salmon, nuts, and avocado.10
Sugar is in almost everything we eat. But too much added sugar — the kind that’s not naturally found in the food you’re eating — can raise your risk of dying with heart disease, according to a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.11
To cut back on added sugar, you can make the biggest dent by avoiding top sources in the American diet. The sugar in these four categories make up more than half of the added sugar consumed in the U.S.:
- Sugary beverages (especially soda)
- Desserts and sweet snacks like doughnuts and pastries
- Coffee and tea (unless it’s black)
Instead, drink 64 ounces of water per day, choose low-fat or nonfat dairy, and opt for lower-sugar dessert options. 12
Sleep, sleep, sleep
“Sleep is so important for heart health,” says JoAnne Foody, MD. Dr. Foody is the chief medical officer of Esperion, a company focused on finding cholesterol-lowering therapies. “People who get the right amount of sleep tend to have lower blood pressure, a steadier heart rate, and a healthier weight.”
Most adults need 7 or more hours of sleep a night.13 If you’re falling short, make sure you have healthy sleep habits. That includes:
- Going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day
- Getting enough natural light during the day
- Keeping your bedroom cool and dark
- Getting enough exercise (just not too close to bedtime)
Cancer is not the only health risk from smoking cigarettes. Of the more than 800,000 heart disease deaths every year, about 20% are due to smoking. Chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage the heart and blood vessels. Smoking also can cause plaque buildup in the arteries. That can lead to a disease called atherosclerosis and, over time, heart attack or stroke.14
The good news for quitters: Your body starts repairing itself soon after the ﬁnal puff. Quitting is a challenge, but it’s easier when you have support. Counseling, oral medications, and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like the nicotine patch or gum can all help. Using counseling and medication together has been shown to give you the best odds of success. One health insurance benefit many people don’t know about: many plans offer free smoking cessation programs through a digital health advocacy app like Wellframe. Ask your plan or employer if that’s something it offers. 15