February is American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health.
The first step toward heart health is understanding your risk of heart disease. Your risk depends on many factors—some that you can change, others that you cannot.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease Include:
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high blood cholesterol
- Being overweight or obesity
- Having prediabetes or diabetes
- Not getting regular physical activity
- Having a family history of early heart disease
- Having a history of preeclampsia
- Having unhealthy eating behaviors
- Being age 55 or older for women or age 45 or older for men
The more risks you have, the higher your overall risk. Talking about your risks with your healthcare provider is vital as they can help you set and reach goals to keep your heart healthy today and into the future.
6 Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy
1. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Foods to Eat
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Protein-rich foods: fish (salmon, tuna, and trout), lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products (tofu), legumes
- Oils and foods high in monosaturated and polysaturated fats – canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils; nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pine nuts; nut and seed butters; salmon and trout; seeds; avocados; tofu
Foods to Limit
- Saturated fat
- Added Sugars
*Note: Understanding nutrition labels is helpful when choosing healthier foods.
2. Healthy Weight
A healthy weight for adults is generally a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. Learn more here.
3. Physical Activity
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that each week, adults get at least:
- 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or
- 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or
- A combination of both moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activity
4. Manage Stress
Learning to manage stress and cope with problems can improve your mental and physical health. Healthy stress-reducing activities might include:
- Talking to a professional counselor
- Participating in a stress management program
- Practicing meditation
- Being physically active
- Learning relaxation techniques
- Talking with friends, family, and community or religious support systems
- Spending time outdoors
5. Quit Smoking
Talk with your provider about programs and products that can help you quit. For free help and support, consider calling the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848). In addition, we encourage you to talk with your provider if you vape. Research shows that nicotine and flavorings found in vaping products can damage your heart and lungs as well.
6. Get Enough Good-Quality Sleep
The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life. This table from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a helpful tool.
Age and Recommended Hours of Sleep a Day
-Babies 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
-Children 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
-Children 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
-Children 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
-Teens 13-18: 8-10 hours
-Adults 18 years or older: 7-9 hours
To sleep better, it may also help to:
- Spend time outside every day and be physically active
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine
- Avoid large meals within a couple hours before bedtime
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid exercise and bright light.
- Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark
*Information from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute