Heart disease can strike anyone, even if they are young and relatively healthy. About 40 percent of all adults under the age of 40 have obesity, for example, and more than half of all adults under 60 have high blood pressure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Practice these tips for seven days, which can help you have healthier heart by the end of the week. By dedicating one day each week to incorporating a new heart-healthy behavior, you’ll make positive changes quickly without getting overwhelmed.
Day 1: Walk Briskly for 22 Minutes
22 minutes may sound like an odd number to exercise to, but this is based on science. Research has found that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week is very clearly associated with a significant drop in risk of heart attack. Divide that by seven, and you get around 21.4 minutes, or close to 22.
The pace to which you walk should be enough to hold a conversation with a friend, but brisk enough that you can’t talk much or sing.
If you don’t have enough time for daily or weekly exercise, you can work it out in your morning or evening commute. Some examples include getting off the train stop early to walk. This will give you the time to think, relax and be outdoors which could relieve stress and therefore help heart health.
That is just the minimum, for walking more is better for the heart. New research shows that the more you can do, the better it is. A January 2022 study in PLOS Medicine stated that active people reduced their risk of developing heart disease by more than 50 percent.
Tip: Beginners can start with five or ten minutes of walking, then working upwards as you get stronger. You can do this if 22 minutes of walking is too much to try at first.
Day 2: Stop Screen Time an Hour Before Bed
Sleeping well and enough is considered important for heart health. Skimping on sleep, on the other hand, has been linked to high blood pressure and weight gain, increasing the risk of heart disease.
This is due to a couple of reasons. First, impaired sleep raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which raises blood pressure and increases inflammation. If you’re sleep-deprived and tired, you also don’t have the energy to be on a healthy lifestyle.
To top it all off, about half of all adults experience occasional insomnia according to the CDC. One of the way to make sleep easier is to turn off all your screens — computer, phone, tablet, TV — an hour before bed. Research by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has proven that blue light from these screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone that’s essential to your sleep-wake cycle which can prevent you from feeling sleepy at bedtime.
Day 3: Have a few pieces of dark chocolate daily
When it comes to a healthy diet, you may be surprised that dark chocolate is one of the food that you can eat for heart health. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants which limit cell damage from free radicals, protecting you against heart disease among other ailments. Dark chocolate also boosts blood circulation and prevents clotting. The recommended amount is about 20 grams of dark chocolate (4 pieces) daily.
Chocolate is not the only food to eat for heart health. Rather, heart health can be achieved with a balanced diet of three meals a day and eating everything in moderation. Make sure you are eating a balanced and nutritious diet. By switching to a heart healthy diet, you will protect you from chronic heart conditions and make you feel fit and agile both physically and mentally.
Day 4: Replace junk foods with healthy snacks
Avoid junk food like namkeens, samosas and packaged stuff since it contains sodium which triggers high blood pressure. Instead, replace it with fruits and nuts which are nutritious, easy to carry around and don’t need any preparation time. While fruits are healthy when eaten in moderation, nuts like walnuts, almonds and pistachios are especially beneficial for the heart since it contains monounsaturated fatty acids which reduces bad cholesterol levels and protects you against heart disease and stroke.
Day 5: Download a Meditation App
Not only walking is a good exercise, but meditation as well. A ton of research show that meditation helps reduce the risk of heart disease. A September 2020 study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that over 60,000 people in the study who regularly meditated had lower rates of cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease compared with those who didn’t meditate.
Those who meditated found help with their levels of stress, which is a huge driver of risk of heart disease because it raises blood pressure and ramps up inflammation. Whichever app you choose, just make sure you practice it daily whether it’s five minutes or 10 minutes.
For those stressful moments when you don’t have easy access to an app — for example, you’re stuck in traffic, or you’re in a stressful situation at work, then you can try closing your eyes for a minute or two and practicing belly breathing.
When we’re stressed, our tendency is to breathe more shallowly, which amps up our stress hormones. Instead, try closing your mouth and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose (you can put your hands on your belly so you feel that it’s filled with air). Then blow all of the air out slowly through your mouth and feel your belly deflate.
Day 6: Meet a Friend
Numerous studies have found over the years that social support is important when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease.
A study on July 2019 about Menopause, for example, followed post-menopausal people for over a decade and found that strong friendships and social support reduced their risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Social support provides a buffer against stress and also helps to prevent loneliness, which is a risk factor for heart disease. If it’s hard to get together in person, try video calling.
Day 7: Make a Dentist Appointment
Those who are aiming for a healthy heart should also make a dentist appointment. Studies have found that people with gum disease have higher rates of heart disease (including heart attack and stroke) than those with healthy gums and chompers, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
One theory is that the bacteria that cause gum disease travel to blood vessels throughout the body, where they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage. It may also be that the inflammation in the mouth sets off a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, including the blood vessels and heart.
The ideal time is to see your dentist at least once or twice a year, but you may have to go more frequently if you already have gum disease. And of course, you’ll want to brush and floss in between visits.
Have you tried this routine? Tell us your experience in the comments section below!