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5 Healthy Habits That Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk

September 01, 2015

More than 26 million Americans suffer from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heart disease can affect the heart and blood vessels, and can impact people no matter what their age or gender. Your heart is one of the body’s most vital organs. You can’t live without it, so you should do your best to keep it healthy.

As we come up on World Heart Day on September 29, it’s important to understand how to reduce your heart disease risk. Though certain genetic factors can increase your risk for this condition, lifestyle changes greatly can improve your heart health. Here are five healthy habits you can begin this month to stay heart healthy:

Watch What You Eat

As the age-old saying goes, you are what you eat. When it comes to heart disease, truer words were never uttered.

A diet rich in saturated fat, processed foods, sugar and cholesterol can lead to blockages that clog your arteries and prevent the heart from performing its normal functions. We’re all tempted by sugary treats and junk foods, but you should swap these calorie-laden indulgences for healthier items like fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains. Overhauling your diet is hard, but small substitutions can help you eat better long term. For example, try fruit juice mixed with sparkling water or naturally sweetened teas instead of drinking soda. Rather than frying, bake your meats and swap out a loaded baked potato or high-fat side item for roasted sweet potatoes, a green salad or veggies. Making these changes slowly will help them stick and steadily improve your heart health.

Watch What You Drink

Aside from soda, alcohol is also less than heart-friendly. Drinking alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in your blood and can lead to high blood pressure and heart failure when you consume it in excess.

And you might be wondering about red wine. Yes, some studies have shown that red wine reduces heart disease deaths. It’s thought that the antioxidants and flavonoids, a group of phytonutrients with several health benefits, have several benefits for heart health. However, we don’t have solid research that specifically links red wine to lower risks for heart disease. Other foods, such as red grape juice, grapes and dark berries, also contain these same nutrients. For optimal heart health, eat these foods instead of drinking red wine and drink no more than one (or less) alcoholic beverage every day.

Get Moving

This is obvious—exercise and increased physical activity strengthen your heart.

And you don’t need to run a marathon to reap these benefits, either. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week can improve your health. Start by walking outside or on a treadmill, take up a hobby such as gardening, or do simple exercises at home by watching a fitness DVD or by climbing the stairs, if you’re physically able to.

Limit Tobacco Usage

Smoking increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke and high blood pressure. Smoking can harden your arteries and damage your circulatory system. It also reduces lung function, making it more difficult to get the necessary exercise to lower your heart disease risk.

I know quitting smoking is easier said than done, but millions of people have tried and succeeded at it. If you need help, talk to your doctor about the best way to quit. He or she can give you helpful information about all the options available, whether it be nicotine replacement medicines or joining a smoking cessation program.

Turn Off the TV

It may be a bit surprising, but excessive TV viewing has been linked to increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. According to a 2011 study, every two hours a day spent watching TV increased heart disease risks by 15 percent. This may be because TV viewing is a sedentary activity that doesn’t require any exercise. People also tend to snack and eat mindlessly when they watch TV.

I think the bottom line here is that you should stay as active as possible. Leisure time is important, but don’t spend it doing something that may compromise your heart health.

This American Heart Month, make small changes that could lead to big results for your heart.

From dietary adjustments to more exercise and less alcohol, every little bit helps. So, do something good for your heart today. September is the perfect time to start.