The buzz on heart health and preventing heart disease is at an all-time high, and for good reason. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for one out of four deaths, and continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States.
Over the past century, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and increased stress has taken a toll on our health — and our hearts. The good news is that this epidemic has led to some amazing research and discoveries over the past decade. Today, we have more knowledge than ever on how to prevent heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
There’s no doubt that healthy eating, regular physical activity, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight is essential for heart health. In addition to these more commonly known lifestyle behaviors, there are other ways we can protect our hearts.
Here are five simple, surprising steps to keep our hearts healthy.
1. Spend time with people you love.
The heart is known as the universal symbol of love. As it turns out, spending time with your loved ones may lower your blood pressure. Stress can cause damage to your heart, and research has shown that those with strong support systems who talk about their struggles with trusted companions have lower blood pressure. Additionally, the hormone oxytocin is released into the bloodstream when touching a loved one. This hormone helps lower blood pressure, reduce stress and ease anxiety — all important for heart health.
2. Laugh often.
Laughter may be the best source of our natural medicine. The simple act of laughter has powerful physical and emotional benefits such as: reducing stress, depression, strengthening our immune system and easing pain. Emerging studies also show the powerful effect it can have on our heart health. Recent research has found that laughter actually helps promote healthy blood vessels and limit the production of stress hormones.
3. Get enough sleep.
We all know that great feeling after waking up from a good night’s sleep. It seems every health journal is touting the innumerable benefits sleep can bring, and for good reason. Not only can a good night’s sleep help keep us alert, aid in weight loss and improve memory, but it can also play a key role in keeping our hearts healthy. According to the American Heart Association, poor sleep quality and short sleep duration are linked to high blood pressure and an increased chance of experiencing cardiovascular events. Like many other health habits, the key is consistency. For heart health, it is recommended to get between seven to nine hours a night.
4. Floss Daily.
Keeping your gums in shape has been tied to the prevention of heart disease. Researchers from Columbia University studied 420 adults for three years and found that improvement in gum health directly correlated to a slower progression of plaque buildup lining the wall of their arteries. Now the importance of flossing extends beyond your smile, it has significant health benefits.
5. Play with your pet.
A pet may be your heart’s best friend. According to the American Heart Association, studies have shown that owning a pet is associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels — leading to healthier hearts. The “pet effect” in part is due to the power of touch, which has a calming effect, shown to help alleviate stress. Dog owners were especially receptive to heart-protecting benefits, likely because dog owners tend to get more exercise.
No matter where you’re at in your health journey, there are simple things you can do to improve. Whether it be through learning, trying something new or changing up an old routine. The power of holistic health is opening our eyes to other practices we can adopt to keep our health in top condition and live our healthiest lives.