Want to live long and strong? One of the most important things you can do is keep your heart healthy. Your heart pumps blood to every part of your body. That blood carries the oxygen and nutrition that your body needs to perform at its best.
You may not have control over every risk factor for heart disease, including your age, sex, race and family health history. But you can control other factors, such as your diet, exercise habits and living a heart-healthy lifestyle.
A recent study found that lifestyle choices you make as a young adult can predict your risk of heart attack in middle age. Harvard's School of Public Health offers this heart health quiz to see what your risk level looks like.
Go ahead, take the quiz. We'll wait.
Are you back? Don't like your risk score? Here's what you can do to improve it.
- Step on the scale. Extra pounds are a drag on your heart, especially if they're around your middle. Even a small weight loss — just 3 to 5 percent of your body weight, according to Mayo Clinic — can lower your risk of heart disease. That's because losing weight can help lower your blood pressure and fats in your blood. Losing weight also reduces your risk of diabetes, another risk factor for heart disease.
- Eat heart healthy. Plan your meals around fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, beans and non-tropical vegetable oils. Don't overdo the salt. You should also limit processed foods such as white bread, bakery items and bacon. Talk to your doctor about how to adjust your diet in particular.
- Get moving. Remember that your heart is a muscle. The more you use your muscles, the stronger they become. To give your heart a workout, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise five days a week. Aerobic exercises, such as running, jogging, swimming and bicycling, get your heart and lungs pumping.
- Don't light up. The Mayo Clinic warns that smoking can increase your blood pressure and heart rate and make it harder for your blood to carry oxygen to your cells. Get help from friends, family, or your doctor to quit smoking if you need it. Secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous, too, so keep away from areas where other people smoke.
- Make sleep a priority. The Mayo Clinic also explains that when you don't get enough sleep, you increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. To get quality sleep, stick to a regular and adequate sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Watch your mouth. Good dental hygiene is important for your heart health. That's because the bacteria that cause gum disease can move into your bloodstream and cause inflammation of your blood vessels, explains the Cleveland Clinic. In turn, this can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. To keep your mouth and heart healthy, brush and floss daily.
- Manage stress. When you're stressed, you're not only more likely to overeat, but you're also more likely to eat unhealthy foods. Stress can also cause your blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure and a poor diet both increase your risk of heart disease, so manage your stress to decrease your risk. Find activities such as yoga, meditation or reading that can help you unwind and feel calm. Then, make time to practice them every day.
Stick to these healthy lifestyle tips to help you achieve and maintain good heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease. Your heart will love you for it.