Matters of the Heart: 5 reminders for maintaining a healthy heart

Guide

Every moment of every day of your life, your heart is working non-stop for you. In fact, over the average lifetime, the heart beats 2.5 billion times, pumping oxygen-rich blood to vital organs and tissues, supplying them with the nutrients that they need and removing waste products through a network of blood vessels called arteries and veins.


Keeping your heart healthy is vital to the quality and length of your life. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to keep your ticker in tip-top shape. Lifestyle changes, big and small, are worth the effort to keep your heart healthy.


1. Exercise
Regular exercise makes your heart stronger, which means it can pump blood with less effort. Less effort means less force on your arteries, which, in turn, means lower blood pressure.

Best of all, exercise doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week can have a meaningful impact. Walking, raking leaves, shoveling snow, dancing, hiking, even doing housework at a quicker pace will all work to get your heart beating hard enough to increase its strength.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, you may want to work your way up to 30 minute exercise sessions. In the meantime, look for other ways to add more movement to your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work, park at the far end of the lot, or take a walk during work breaks.


2. Stop smoking
Of all the things you can do to keep your heart healthy, quitting smoking is one of the most important and one that has some of the most immediate benefits. In fact, within as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette, both your heart rate and blood pressure may start to improve. Within one day, your risk of heart attack begins to decrease and your blood oxygen levels begin to rise, making physical activity and exercise easier. After one month, your circulation and lung function both improve, lessening the amount of work your heart needs to do.


3: Get plenty of sleep
Without question, sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Regardless of age, weight, or habits, people who don’t regularly get the right amount of quality sleep are at higher risk for heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends at least 7 hours a night. While a late night here or there probably won’t do serious harm, over time a lack of sleep time or quality sleep can hurt your heart.

If you have sleep issues, like inability to fall or remain asleep or waking yourself snoring, speak to your doctor.


4. Cut back on salt
Even a small reduction in the amount of salt you consume daily can improve your heart health and reduce your blood pressure. Cutting back on salt doesn’t have to mean enjoying food less. In fact, you might find yourself enjoying it more as you begin to appreciate the taste of the food you used salt to season. One easy way to reduce salt intake is to eat fewer processed foods, which tend to be high in salt and calories and/or to look for products with a reduced- or low-sodium label. Also, invest in low-salt seasonings and herbs to enhance the flavor of everything from soups and steaks to popcorn and potatoes.


5. Lose weight
The more weight you carry, the harder your heart has to work and the greater your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and even a heart attack.

The good news is that losing a small amount of weight can have a big impact on your heart health. The even better news is that three of the four things mentioned above can actually help you lose weight (exercise, getting enough sleep, cutting back on salt).

Keep weight loss goals attainable—aiming to drop a pound a week—and enjoy your success. As you adopt the healthier habits note above, dropping weight will become even easier.


Making lifestyle changes takes time and effort. Don’t give up if you slip up now and then. Stay focused on the goal of making your heart healthy so that you can enjoy life to the fullest.


Alison Malmborg, MSN, ARNP, is a cardiac care nurse practitioner at SVMC Cardiology.