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Heart Health and Changing our Habits

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S?

This statistic can sound pretty scary, but luckily there are several preventative measures you can take. Some elements, such as family history or other situational matters, might be out of your control. However, there is quite a bit you can do to prevent and even reverse damage.

As we get older, lifestyle changes can be difficult to achieve. However, simple changes could also add years to our life. Here are seven habits that make a difference to heart health:

1. Get more active! Did you know that it is important to elevate your heart rate for at least 150 minutes each week? You should also incorporate strength training twice a week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This may sound like a lot, but it can be as simple as gardening, walking your dog or taking a brisk walk, or performing daily chores. Just find a way to get up and moving.

2. Alcohol in moderation. Excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure and have a toxic effect on the heart. Try to reduce consumption and talk to your doctor to discuss what is healthy for you.

3. Stop smoking or vaping tobacco. This can damage blood vessels and cause plaque buildup, which can trigger a heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure. Even if you have smoked for years, there are immediate benefits to quitting.

4. Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on your heart. There are several distractions these days, such as TV and cell phones, that are keeping us up later with screen time. If you need a little background noise, try turning on a fan or using a sleep sound app. (I use Rainfall.)

5. Opt for better food choices and lose weight. When given the choice for fried or grilled, fries or salad, soda or water, cake or fruit, what do you pick? Choosing the lighter caloric option can have a big benefit when it comes to your heart. Being overweight or obese can spike your cholesterol levels, your blood sugar, your triglycerides and your blood pressure. All of these factors damage your heart and raise your risk for developing heart disease.

6. Pay attention to mental health and lonely lifestyle. Anxiety and stress are sure ways to raise your blood pressure. Having a support system of friends is a great way to reduce that stress. More than one quarter of adults 65 years or older are socially isolated, which can lead to a negative impact on health.

7. Care for your teeth. Research has shown that gum disease is associated with heart disease and bacterial infections. Make sure to schedule regular dental appointments and regular cleanings as a way to prevent this.

Change can be hard, but it is OK to start at small. Set a goal, and keep track of those accomplishments in a journal. If you drink more than two sodas a day, make it a goal to drink one. When you go out to eat, make that better food choice and write it down. If you went to bed a few hours earlier than you normally do, track it!  If you did an extra chore or went a little bit further on your walk, tell someone about it! Small victories can be the start to big improvements to your heart health.

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