10 surprising things you can do to keep your heart healthy

Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do to protect your heart. Eating a nutritious diet, getting plenty of exercise, and avoiding tobacco can help prevent heart disease and reduce your risk factors for other chronic conditions. But when it comes to taking care of your heart, there are a number of other surprising things you can do.

Get smaller dishes.
As you may have noticed, American dinner plates have grown larger over time. Bigger dishes tend to distort how we think about serving sizes. Using smaller plates and bowls at home can help control your portions at mealtimes. Your plate will look full—especially if you fill it with healthy vegetables and fruits—but you’ll be eating less.

Go to bed earlier.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of having a heart attack. And, sleep apnea can have a negative effect on heart health. How much sleep you need depends on a number of factors, but most adults should get between seven and nine hours per night.

Eat a rainbow.
Adding a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet can help you get the heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and nutrients you need. Fruits and vegetables are also naturally low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber. Plant-based foods may help prevent cardiovascular disease, so keep fresh vegetables like red bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, and baby-cut carrots in your fridge for quick snacks.

Clean the house.
Physical activity of any kind is good for your heart. If you’re too busy to go to the gym or take a yoga class, you can still find creative ways to be active at home. Everyday tasks, like cleaning and gardening, count as exercise. Even small amounts of activity—five minutes here, ten minutes there—can make a big difference for your heart.

Start meditating.
Stress causes some people to do things that are bad for the heart, like smoking cigarettes or drinking too much alcohol. Meditation is a healthier way to manage stress and may play a role in reducing your risk of heart disease and improving your overall health. If you’ve never done it before, try meditating for just five minutes a few days a week.

Go Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes plant-based foods, healthy fats, herbs and spices, and enjoying meals with family and friends. In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet may help lower your “bad” cholesterol levels and prevent other chronic diseases. Try these Mediterranean diet recipes.

Get up, stand up.
Sitting for long periods of time can be bad for your heart and may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you have a desk job or spend a lot of time in front of a screen, educate yourself about the risks of sitting too much and make a point of taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes or so. Get up from your chair and stretch. Or go for a short walk around your workplace.

Slow down and chew your food.
Eating too quickly can lead to overeating and weight gain. But eating slowly can help you decrease the amount of food you consume at each meal. After you stop eating, it takes about 20 minutes for the hormones that control your appetite and make you feel full to reach your brain. Practice mindful eating by slowing down and letting your brain catch up to your body.

Floss your teeth.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there may be a link between gum disease and heart disease. Bacteria associated with gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause inflammation in your blood vessels, which may increase your risk of heart disease. To help protect your heart, practice good dental hygiene and floss your teeth once a day.

Treat yourself.
You don’t have to be good 100 percent of the time. It’s okay to unwind with some ice cream or French fries every once in a while. Just don’t do it every day or let one slip-up become an excuse for giving up on your heart-healthy lifestyle.

Take steps to prevent heart disease

You can’t change your family history or age, but you have the power to control some risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Check your blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage your heart. It’s called the “silent killer” because the symptoms are not always obvious, so regular health screenings are important.

Control your blood cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and HDL (or “good”) cholesterol. If you have too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, plaque can start to build up in your arteries—a condition called atherosclerosis—which can increase your risk of a heart attack. That’s why it’s important to know your cholesterol numbers and make diet and lifestyle changes to improve your levels.

Get screened for diabetes. Diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease. If you’re overweight or have a family history of type 2 diabetes, ask your doctor if you should be tested.

Limit unhealthy fats. Understanding the different types of dietary fats can help you make heart-healthy eating choices. The American Heart Association encourages healthy adults to limit saturated fats, avoid trans fats, and choose healthier options.

Eat less salt. Reducing sodium is a part of a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting or avoiding table salt, canned soups, packaged foods, frozen dinners, tomato juice, ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce, and restaurant meals.

Quit smoking (and avoid secondhand smoke). Smoking cigarettes increases your risk for heart disease and other conditions. Quitting isn’t easy, but your doctor can suggest ways to help you break the habit. APWU Health Plan offers a Tobacco Cessation Program that provides support for both High Option and Consumer Driven Option members who are ready to move beyond tobacco.

Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and contribute to high triglycerides in your blood. If you don’t drink, don’t start. If you choose to drink, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. Different types of beer, wine, and spirits have different amounts of alcohol content, so make sure you understand what counts as a standard drink.