Heart disease is prevalent in nearly half of all U.S. adults
February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on improving heart health
A variety of factors can wreak havoc on a healthy heart, including cholesterol, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and waist circumference
You can make several lifestyle changes to improve cardiovascular health
Show your heart some love this February! This month officially kicks off the annual celebration of American Heart Month, a time to focus on improving cardiovascular health.
According to the American Heart Association journal Circulation, “nearly half of all U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease.”1 That translates into 121.5 million U.S. adults with cardiovascular disease, which was the leading cause of death in the U.S (stroke was the fifth leading cause) in 2019, says the report.
One key risk factor? High blood pressure (also known as hypertension), which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, pregnancy complications, and cognitive decline.2
While genetics play a role in cardiovascular disease, you might be wondering how to improve heart health. Fortunately, you can make a variety of lifestyle changes that can positively impact your heart health. But first, it helps to know what can make your heart health deteriorate. Once you understand what factors can affect heart health, then you can make changes to those factors that you have control over.
What Is Harmful for Heart Health?
A variety of risk factors can wreak havoc on a healthy heart, including the following:3
High blood cholesterol
High resting heart rate
Low cardiorespiratory fitness
High blood pressure
High blood sugar
High waist circumference
Irregular Heart rhythm
Family history of heart disease
While you may not have control over some of these factors (like family history), the good news is that you can take steps to change most of them to improve heart health.
What Can You Do To Strengthen Your Heart?
Now that you know what can increase your risk of heart disease, you’ll want some solid strategies on how to improve cardiovascular health. Take comfort in knowing there’s actually a lot you can do to make a difference.
1. Stop smoking
Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, and increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses. Regarding heart disease, smoking damages blood vessels and can make them thicken and grow narrower, making your heart beat faster and your blood pressure go up. When you quit smoking, it lowers your risk for smoking-related diseases and can add years to your life.4
2. Eat a healthy diet
One of the best ways to improve heart health is to make healthier choices regarding what you eat and drink. For starters, ditch the processed foods such as those high in saturated fats and added sugars. The bulk of a healthy diet should include nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy. If you’re not eating a healthy diet, you might be missing key nutrients. Also, watch portion sizes to avoid over-eating. And drink plenty of water instead of sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks. Consider cooking at home more often so you can control what ingredients go into your meals.
3. Exercise regularly
When you move more, you help to manage your weight and support healthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.5 You can strive for a varied exercise routine to hit all the major fitness markers—flexibility, strength, balance, and endurance. But when it comes to heart health, in particular, you want to focus on aerobic exercise. Why? It improves circulation, which can result in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. When looking at the cardiovascular risk factors above, you’ll see that regular aerobic exercise can help increase blood flow to the heart and improve resting heart rate.6 Before starting any new exercise routine we recommend checking with your healthcare practitioner.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
If you follow a healthy eating plan and exercise regularly, this will go a long way towards maintaining a healthy weight and improving your cardiovascular health. If you are overweight or obese, strive for healthy weight loss goals, until you achieve your desired weight and a healthy waist circumference. The American Heart Association recommends that men should aim for a waist circumference less than 40 inches, while women should shoot for less than 35 inches.3
5. Manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar
Know your numbers if you want to improve your heart health! When it comes to health stats, you need to know your numbers and make sure you fall in a healthy range for your age, gender, height, and weight. That means regular visits to your primary care physician. High blood pressure is defined as a reading of 130 or higher for the top number, or 80 or higher for the bottom number.3 For cholesterol and blood sugar, you should get a fasting blood test to find out your levels. In general, you want to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase your “good” HDL cholesterol.
6. Make other healthy lifestyle choices
Other factors come into play as well when it comes to improving your heart health. Get adequate sleep. Manage your stress. Connect with family and friends to maintain a strong support system. Strive for balance in your life with a blend of work, family, friends, hobbies, and activities that boost your mental and physical health.
The Bottom Line
The annual celebration of American Heart Month serves as a great reminder to focus on improving cardiovascular health. While you can’t control genetics and family history, you can make a variety of lifestyle changes to improve heart health.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.