Heart Health Awareness: Six Activities that Help Protect Your Heart

Heart Health Awareness: Six Activities that Help Protect Your Heart

Healthline |
23 March 2017

  • Put Your Heart into It

    Protecting your heart may seem like a daunting challenge—but remember, every journey begins with a few small steps. There are many easy lifestyle changes that can make a real difference to the health of your heart. You can incorporate small heart-smart habits across the entire spectrum of your life: From the foods you eat to how you choose to relax and unwind.

    It doesn’t matter where you start—just take the first step! Start eating healthier oils by enjoying walnuts for a snack or savoring a fillet of grilled salmon; learn to add a short daily stroll to your routine; and, best of all, take some time to ease your mind and enjoy the company of family and friends. Adding these simple heart-smart activities to your day may help you eat lighter, feel better, and give you a head start on the path to a healthier heart. 

  • Use Heart-Smart Fats and Oils

    Fats get a bad rap—but don’t be too quick to pass judgment. You need some fats in your diet for energy and cell growth, and certain kinds of fats are better for you than others. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), two types of fats may be beneficial if you eat them in moderation. These fats are called polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.

    “Healthier” fats like these usually stay in a liquid form whether they are at room temperature or chilled. Vegetable oils—such as corn oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil—are high in polyunsaturated fat. Other sources of “healthier” fats include salmon, trout, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.

  • Avoid Saturated Fats and Cholesterol

    While you focus on finding ways to eat healthier fats in moderation, you should also try to limit certain “bad” fats. Fats known as “saturated fats” and “trans fats” raise the levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in your body. Unlike oils, which are liquid at room temperature, saturated fats and trans fats generally remain solid.

    The AHA recommends limiting your consumption of saturated fats to 16 grams per day, and avoiding trans fats altogether. For the most part, trans fats are created through an industrial manufacturing process called hydrogenation that is used for some packaged foods. You can avoid trans fats by reading food labels and choosing products that contain zero trans fats. When it comes to limiting saturated fat, you also need to watch your intake of certain fresh foods, such as pork, poultry with the skin on, beef fat or lard, butter, and full-fat cheese and dairy products. 

  • Walk This Way

    It’s a startling statistic, but the AHA reports that more than 65 percent of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. To help tackle this problem, and encourage people to lead healthier lives, the AHA recommends that adults carve out about 30 minutes per day, five days per week, for exercise. And according to the AHA, many people find success by choosing walking as their main fitness activity. Walking is gentle and can easily be added to your daily routine.

    If you want to start walking regularly, consider these tips:

    • Build up slowly. Start with just 10 minutes, and gradually increase your walking time to a half-hour without stopping.
    • Make it a habit. Pick the same time each day to exercise, such as on your lunch hour or after dinner with your family.
    • Keep it fun. Ask family, friends, or colleagues to join you on your daily walks—it will be more enjoyable, and you can motivate each other to keep it up.
  • A Stretch in Time

    Physical fitness isn’t just about cardio—flexibility is another important component. The Mayo Clinic cites improved athletic performance, decreased chance of injury, and better flexibility among the proven benefits of regular stretching. Stretching works by increasing the blood flow to your muscles, so it’s especially helpful to do it after a walk or other type of aerobic exercise.

    When you stretch:

    • Focus on your major muscle groups—particularly your legs, hips, back, shoulders, and neck.
    • Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds—and don’t push so hard that you feel pain.
    • Make stretching a regular part of your day about three times a week for best results.
  • The Magic of Meditation

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could get away to the beach, or relax in a field of wildflowers, whenever you wanted? Well, you can—when you meditate. The AHA recommends using daily relaxation such as mediation to help you unwind and calm mental tension.

    Meditation can be as simple as sitting or lying quietly with your eyes closed, focusing on your breathing. As you do this, picture yourself somewhere peaceful, whether it’s floating in the clouds or walking in the mountains. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply. When you feel your mind start to wander, bring your focus back to a detail of the peaceful place you are imagining: What do the wildflowers smell like? Can you see any funny-shaped clouds in the sky? Set a timer for five, 10, or even 30 minutes to enjoy this practice—and then notice how much better you feel after.

  • Relax and Reconnect

    Sometimes you don’t feel like doing a structured activity. Fortunately, stress relief does not require many bells and whistles—sometimes the best way to tame tension is just to relax with your family.

    When the busyness of life leaves you feeling out of balance, unplug from the world and reconnect with your loved ones. Whether you cook a meal together, try a new hobby, or just watch a movie, the healing power of time spent with family can help change your perspective and make stress melt away.

  • Six Steps Forward

    You’re now six steps closer to potentially improving your heart health through eating better, exercising more, and finding time to relax. Remember, adopting heart-smart habits doesn’t have to be difficult: Simple lifestyle changes are the best way to protect your long-term health. It’s easy to pick healthier foods with your fat-savvy knowledge, enjoy exercise with a daily stroll and stretch, and replenish your spirit with family time. Now you just need to put these ideas into action, and you’ll be well on your way to taking better care of your heart.