Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. “Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease,” says Dr. Stuart Smalheiser of Beaufort Memorial Lowcountry Medical Group. “About 25 percent of people who have heart attacks don’t have symptoms,” Smalheiser says. “Another 25 percent of them present with atypical symptoms. As you get older, you’re more likely to be asymptomatic or have symptoms not generally associated with heart attacks.”
Undertaking major lifestyle changes to improve your heart health—modifying a stressful job, losing 40 pounds—can seem daunting, if not impossible. But these 10 baby steps are easy to embrace and share, so both you and your partner can make your hearts a little healthier.
1. Plant a petunia.
Gardening is considered a moderately aerobic activity. Raking leaves is considered a more vigorous activity. Riding on a lawn mower? Not so much.
2. Phone a friend.
Friendships and social support can help reduce stress and improve heart health. Having someone to talk to is great; even better is having someone join you for a healthy meal or a sweat session. Healthy friends can be great motivators.
3. Veg out.
On your plate, that is. To simplify healthy eating, always start your meal by filling half your plate with fresh vegetables. This helps you load up on vitamins and nutrients as well as heart-healthy (and cancer-fighting) antioxidants.
4. Shake up your dressing.
Try making your own salad dressing, using olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard and pepper. It’s a great way to add flavor without too many fatty calories.
5. Sip a Syrah.
The antioxidants in red wine have heart-health value, as long as you don’t drink more than one glass of red wine daily for women and two for men. If you’re not a drinker, you could also drink grape juice. It’s the grape skins that have the antioxidant benefit.
6. Hug Fido.
Owning a pet, especially a dog, helps your heart stay healthy for several reasons. A dog can motivate you to be more active and take walks; snuggling a pet can help lower stress; and the likelihood of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity all tend to be lower in pet owners.
7. Chomp dark chocolate.
Though experts say more research is needed to confirm their true benefits, cocoa flavanols have been shown to help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Look for chocolate with at least 65 percent cocoa and try to avoid processed milk chocolate candy, which is full of sugar and fat and low in flavanols. Keep in mind a small amount of dark chocolate is better than a large quantity of milk chocolate.
8. Pare your to-do list.
This is one simple way to reduce stress and improve your heart health. Cut out tasks that aren’t essential or enjoyable.
9. Hit the sack.
Insufficient sleep increases stress hormones, which are associated with higher blood pressure. Aim for seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night.
10. Upgrade your grains.
White flour and processed grains aren’t doing your heart any favors. Look for whole grains instead. Quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice are superior to white breads, pastas and rice.
What’s your risk for heart disease? Take this online assessment to evaluate your risk.