Heart Care Is Self-Care: How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

By Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD

February 19, 2021

Heart Healthy Life

February is American Heart Month and a good time to start incorporating heart care into your self-care habits and routines. Every year, about 655,000 people in the United States die from heart disease. It is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. Read on to learn what you can do to help keep your heart healthy and prevent heart disease.

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a combination of several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD refers to a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels. The plaque can decrease blood flow to your heart and other parts of your body. It can also detach from the blood vessel walls and travel to your brain or heart, placing you at risk for a stroke or heart attack.

Fortunately, you can take steps to care for your heart and prevent heart disease and its complications. Incorporating any or all of the following tips into your lifestyle can help you keep your heart in good health.

Reduce Trans Fats and Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Your Diet

Trans fats are considered the worst type of fats for your health. Most trans fats are produced artificially by adding hydrogen to liquid fats to make them solids at room temperature. This process is known as hydrogenation. Trans fats raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase your risk of heart disease. Be sure to read your food labels and stay away from foods that may include trans fats, such as:

  • Fried foods, including French fries and doughnuts
  • Frozen pizza
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Nondairy creamer
  • Processed baked goods, including cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Refrigerated dough
  • Shortening
  • Stick margarine

Not all fats are bad for you. It turns out that increasing the omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is good for your heart. These unsaturated fats help increase your HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce inflammation that may lead to heart disease.

One way to increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is by trying the Mediterranean diet. Studies have found several health benefits from following a Mediterranean diet. These benefits range from lowering your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease to reducing your risk of dying from heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet includes foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including the following:

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and lake trout
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds

Reduce Your Salt Intake

Too much salt in your diet can increase your blood pressure and lead to heart disease. New guidelines from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that you consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day or that you reduce your sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. So, bypass the saltshaker and choose foods and broths labeled “low sodium.” To enhance the flavor of your food, opt for heart-healthy herbs in lieu of salt.

Increase Your Consumption of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are high in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E. These are nutrients that help raise your HDL, lower your LDL, and reduce inflammation.

To help you find more heart-healthy food choices, you can use the ScriptSave WellRx Grocery Guidance.

Take Care of Your Teeth

Did you know that your oral hygiene is connected to your heart health? Research shows that gum disease and tooth loss in adults are linked to heart disease. It is possible that bacteria that cause gum disease can move through your bloodstream and affect other parts of your body, including your heart.

To keep your gums and teeth healthy, be sure to have a dental exam and cleaning at least once every six months, brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss daily.

Move More and Sit Less

Both the ACC and AHA recommend 90 to 150 minutes of exercise per week to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. Getting regular exercise helps manage your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and reduces your risk of developing heart disease.

Research shows that sitting for prolonged periods may increase your risk of several conditions, including heart disease. The following are a few tips to help reduce the time you spend sitting:

  • Set a timer and take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
  • Stand or walk around while taking a phone call.
  • Take a short walk during your lunch break if time allows.
  • Try a standing or adjustable desk that allows you to alternate between standing and sitting while you work.

Quit Smoking and Avoid Secondhand Smoke

It’s no secret that smoking increases your risk of developing many health conditions, including heart disease. However, exposure to secondhand smoke can be just as bad for your heart health as smoking. Research shows that just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can reduce your arteries’ ability to expand and make it difficult for your heart to get the necessary blood.

If you smoke, try to get help quitting. If you don’t smoke, keep away from environments that will expose you to secondhand smoke.

Take Your Medications as Prescribed

Whether you take medication for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other health conditions, taking your medicine regularly as prescribed by your doctor is essential for maintaining a healthy heart. If you need help remembering to take your medication, try the ScriptSave® WellRx Medicine Chest to help you keep your medicines organized.

Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients’ concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

https://www.wellrx.com/health-conditions/about/health-condition/cardiovascular-disease-overview/~default/

https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm

https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/trans-fat

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.015176

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a1344

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/HYP.0000000000000065

https://www.wellrx.com/news/the-link-between-dental-health-and-heart-health/

https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M14-1651?articleid=2091327

https://no-smoke.org/secondhand-smoke-science/

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