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Putting your heart into it: Three tips for heart health

Aaron Aslakson, director of fitness centers | Feb 18, 2021

women holding heart balloon

It’s a typical Monday: a morning of meetings, a mid-day exercise session, a new recipe for dinner, and settling in for your favorite television series at night. You move about your day, going from activity to activity. Meanwhile, your heart is at work for you, pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles and returning deoxygenated blood to your lungs. This process carries on without your knowledge. If your body needs more oxygen, your cardiovascular system automatically does it for you.

Whether you’re awake or asleep, your heart continues working, beating continuously to do its job 100,000 times per day. One could argue your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart, is the ultimate workhorse. Because of this, taking care of your heart and cardiovascular system through lifestyle choices should be a top priority.

Here are three things you can start doing today to improve your heart health and help keep your heart and cardiovascular system working well:

  1. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Traditionally, aerobic-based exercise has the greatest impact on the cardiovascular system and heart. Because of a sustained rise in heart and respiration rates during aerobic-based exercise, there are numerous adaptations to the cardiovascular system and heart.

    At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is recommended per week (HHS, 2018). However, multiple forms of exercise benefit the cardiovascular system, including resistance training and yoga. The key to seeing these benefits is a well-rounded, consistent exercise.

    Not sure where to start? Contact a fitness professional to assess your current ability level, establish goals, and create an exercise program.

  2. healthy food on a plateFocus on your diet. What you are eating (or not) directly impacts the risk of cardiovascular disease and function. Additionally, the food you consume can either enhance or limit your exercise program.
    Much like exercise, your diet is very individual. Be cautious of information you find on the internet, and make sure it is coming from a reliable source. Instead, see your healthcare professional or contact a Walker Methodist registered dietician to help create a heart-healthy diet. (Overwhelmed? Start by learning about seven nutrition label ingredients to avoid.)

  3. Catch up on your sleep. While sleep is used as a reset for our bodily functions and multiple organ systems, there is also a link between sleep and cardiovascular health. Studies have demonstrated a decrease in sleep increases your risk of cardiovascular disease (Nagai et al., 2010; Mullington et al., 2009).

    However, decreases in sleep may also indirectly impact your cardiovascular function and disease risk, leading you to alter your diet to consume foods that promote weight gain (Greer et al., 2013). This, combined with the potential for sleep deprivation to decrease motivation for exercise, impacts multiple lifestyle choices that could promote a healthy cardiovascular system.

February is American Heart Month—a great time to take initiative. But, even after this month, you can add healthy habits to your lifestyle. Don’t feel overwhelmed; start small with one tip at a time instead of making big, drastic changes you won’t be able to maintain. These three simple tips can help you improve and maintain your heart health.

Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications, 4, 2259.

Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd ed.)

Mullington, J. M., Haack, M., Toth, M., Serrador, J. M., & Meier-Ewert, H. K. (2009). Cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 51(4), 294–302.

Nagai, M., Hoshide, S., & Kario, K. (2010). Sleep duration as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease- a review of the recent literature. Current Cardiology Reviews, 6(1), 54–61.

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