Keep Your Heart Young: 7 Ways To Maintain Cardiovascular Health
If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to say that you’re interested in not just learning more about heart health, but also ways to keep your ticker strong for many years to come.
While everybody is different, there is an idea that your heart has an age that’s not always correlated with your real age.
A “heart age” refers to the level of risk that an individual has for a stroke or heart attack. Your heart age is generally affected by factors including chronological age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and lifestyle habits.
“The [New York City Health Department’s] Heart Age Calculator is a tool that can help people understand their risk of a cardiovascular event by assessing known cardiac risk factors to estimate a person’s risk compared to a defined healthy range,” said Dr. Joy Gelbman, a cardiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. “If the heart age is older than a person’s current age, it indicates that there is elevated modifiable risk” for a cardiac event, she said.
According to the National Institute on Aging, some signs that your heart may be aging are chest pain during physical activity, lightheadedness, fatigue, headaches and confusion. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you’ll want to be sure to meet with a cardiologist to make sure your heart function is up to par.
That said, there are ways to turn back the clock on your heart age with some lifestyle changes and preventive measures that you can implement at any stage of life. Here are a few ways to keep your heart young, according to cardiologists:
Lower Your LDL Cholesterol
First and foremost, you’ll want to keep an eye on your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol.
According to Dr. Norman Lepor, a Los Angeles-based cardiologist, the higher your risk, the lower you want your LDL cholesterol (or “bad cholesterol”) to be.
“For most people, we like LDL levels to be lower than 100 mg/dl [milligrams per deciliter] to prevent heart attack and/or stroke,” Lepor said. “But in patients who have known heart disease, we now recommend LDL cholesterol levels to be lower than 70 mg/dl.”
Unsure of what your LDL cholesterol level is? Next time you go to the doctor, you can ask for a coronary calcium scan to find out. This type of blood test is also fairly standard during routine physicals.
Engage In Regular Exercise
The American Heart Association recommends that individuals get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. “This includes aerobic and weight-bearing exercises such as the use of lightweight dumbbells, walking or swimming,” Lepor said.
Dr. Nikki Bart, a heart failure and heart transplant cardiologist, noted that exercise can reduce your blood pressure, improve cholesterol and help maintain a healthy weight.
Any type of movement is healthy ― it can even be walking, dancing, cleaning or gardening. Need some motivation? Find yourself a workout buddy. This can help hold you accountable and even provide an opportunity to catch up with a friend at the same time.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Whether you’re constantly stressed out from work or that never-ending to-do list at home, you’ll want to find ways to manage your stress levels for the sake of your heart health. According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure, which can increase risk of heart attack and stroke.
Not sure where to start? Exercise, meditation and breathing exercises have been shown to help reduce stress levels and even increase endorphins. For help with these and any large stressors in your life ― related to finances or caregiving, for example ― it might also be worth seeing a therapist. A mental health professional can give you the tools to help manage your anxiety.
Eat Nutritious Foods
This isn’t to say that you can’t have cake, but you’ll also want to fill many of your meals with lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
“The Mediterranean diet, which includes a balance of fatty fish, nuts and legumes, has been shown to be of benefit,” Bart said. “Another good rule of thumb is to have a ‘rainbow on your plate,’ with a diet full of antioxidant-rich fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Additionally, Dr. Elizabeth Klodas board-certified cardiologist who is the founder and chief medical officer of Step One Foods, recommended getting plenty of whole-food fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and plant sterols. You can find these in foods like nuts, fish, yogurt, fruits, and veggies (among many others).
Stop Smoking And Vaping
Smoking and vaping can be bad for not just your lungs but your heart health too, since you are inhaling chemicals when doing these activities.
“Many of these can constrict blood vessels, cause inflammation and affect blood pressure and heart rate,” Klodas said.
It might not seem like it at the moment, but the consequences of smoking will invariably add up. If you’re having a hard time quitting, there are resources and other kinds of help available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Get Enough Sleep
Most adults can benefit from getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Not only does sleep help with memory and growth, but it can also help reduce the risk for illness that may be detrimental to the heart.
According to Dr. Naga Pannala, a cardiologist at ArchWell Health, getting enough sleep has been shown to reduce the risk for obesity and high blood pressure, which are both risk factors for poor heart health.
Individuals who have trouble sleeping should consult with a sleep medicine doctor to determine the root cause and come up with viable treatment options.
Learn About Your Genetics
While there are certain factors (such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol) that you can actively change to help prevent heart failure, there are also some “nonmodifiable” ones that are based on genetics.
“If you have a first-degree relative (like a parent or sibling) who has had a heart attack at a young age, this puts you at greater risk of the same thing happening to you,” Bart said. “This is good to know ahead of time because it means you can put in place extra steps to prevent this, like seeing a cardiologist earlier for a screening.”