You know the basics of keeping your heart healthy — exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and don’t smoke. But beyond those big lifestyle habits, there are some smaller steps you can take to promote heart health that only take a few minutes.
We know life’s busy. But taking some steps to protect your heart are better than none. So if you have a few minutes, give these a try:
1. Take care of your teeth. OK, so you’re probably wondering what your teeth have to do with your heart. While researchers still aren’t certain there’s a link between poor oral health and heart disease, some studies have shown found a connection between periodontitis (gum disease) and heart disease.
Better safe than sorry, right? So take care of your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing your teeth.
2. Get up and move. Years ago, most Americans held jobs that required them to walk and move around. But sedentary jobs have increased by 83 percent since 1950. Which means more Americans now find themselves sitting for most of the workday.
But you can take steps to counteract all that sitting. A 2016 study found that an hour of walking or another type of exercise can help reverse the damage. Finding that hour can be a challenge, though.
So for every hour during your workday, get up and walk around for at least five minutes. Every little bit of movement will help.
3. Eat some dark chocolate. No, really — we’re serious. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants help keep the body’s cells healthy.
In addition to containing antioxidants, flavanols, the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate, also have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and improve the body’s clotting ability.
But not every kind of candy bar will offer the same heart-healthy benefits. Choose a small amount of dark chocolate (say 1 ounce) with a high level of cocoa and avoid added ingredients such as caramel or marshmallow. Heart-healthy nuts are just fine.
4. Turn off the TV. Around 80 percent of Americans watch 3 ½ hours of television per day. And that much time in front of the TV while being inactive increases a person’s risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Nobody’s saying you need to cut out TV-watching altogether. But try to limit the amount of time you spend sitting and staring at the screen without doing anything active. Aim to spend five minutes less each day watching TV.
If turning the TV off entirely is too much to ask, exercise while you’re watching — do bodyweight exercises, lift weights or walk on a treadmill.
5. Be social. A lonely heart can equal a sick heart, according to several studies. In these studies, otherwise healthy participants who interacted less frequently with others and had fewer friends were shown to have an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack.
In fact, social isolation can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by about 30 percent. So even when it doesn’t seem like you can pack anything else into your crowded schedule, be sure you’re spending some time with friends and loved ones. It’s important for your heart.
6. Trade your bad fats for good ones. Our “Making sense of fats” blog earlier this year talked about the different types of fat. For optimal health, you want to aim to eat more of the good ones — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — and less of the bad ones — saturated and trans fats.
This doesn’t have to be a difficult habit to establish. Add olives to your salad, or use olive oil in your salad dressing. Eat a handful of nuts as a snack. Have avocado on your toast for breakfast. Or enjoy the seeds from your Halloween pumpkin!
Fatty fish, such as salmon and trout, are a great source of polyunsaturated fat, and they have an added benefit — brain and heart-healthy omega fatty acids. Include them in your diet a couple times a week.
Not sure where to get started on your path to better heart health? Begin with a checkup, where your doctor can check your heart-health numbers. Need a doctor? Find one here.