As we round the corner into spring, it is a great time to check-in and renew your commitment to a healthy year. A heart–healthy year. If you want to be healthy into your old age, it’s important to begin treating your heart well early on.
The American Heart Association emphasizes maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and smoking cessation as primary steps towards preventing heart disease. Assuming you’re up to date on your most recent physical, blood work, and doctor recommendations, what are the biggest ways to impact your heart with your daily choices?
Here are five simple ways to boost your heart’s health.
Avoid Processed Foods.
Steering clear of processed foods not only limits hidden sugars, sodium, and fake ingredients that sneak into your diet, it also forces you to emphasize the foods that reduce inflammation, improve your immunity and are packed with fiber, protein and micronutrients that do everything from boost your heart health to increase your ability to recover from your last workout.
Try switching your breakfast cereal to oatmeal, which can assist in lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, or building your meals around five foods that benefit your heart to include more produce, lean protein and healthy fats in your diet.
Get Your Workouts Started.
For overall heart health, get moving at least 150 minutes per week. That can be 30 minutes every day, 10 minutes a few times each day, or an hour a few times each week. If you are new to working out regularly, or have current heart issues, this is a good zone to stay in for a few months to build up your endurance and confidence.
Once these workouts become easier to accomplish and part of your everyday routine, it’s time to start making them tougher. You can start by adding in a tough workout (see below) once or twice a week.
Toughen Up your Workouts.
Including tough workouts in your program is one of the best ways to help you manage your weight, as well as challenge your heart to make it stronger. Working out hard means your workouts can be shorter, accomplishing more in less time on busy days. A hard workout also means you’re challenging your heart, increasing your post-workout calorie burn, and building muscle.
If your current workouts are bringing you into your aerobic threshold (about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate) and you’re in good physical health, try to kick it up a notch. You can do interval training that increases your heart rate to between 85% and 100% of your maximum heart rate for brief periods (30 seconds to 2 minutes.) Do this by increasing either the speed or the resistance on your fitness equipment.
To keep improving your overall health, considering adding in some strength training. At a minimum, try for two strength training sessions each week. If you’re looking to start building muscle and improve your performance, slowly add in a third session to help you see results. (Just be sure to give yourself a day to recover between workouts.)
To get even more out of your workout to help your heart, combine movements to target multiple muscle groups at once. Moves, like lunging with a bicep curl or doing full body planks and push-ups, strengthen nearly everything in your body.
Another idea is to including strength training as a part of a circuit approach, alternating 60-90 seconds between strength training and cardio. Your body will be cashing in on the body changing benefits of a weight routine in no time.
By choosing regular exercise and a healthy diet, you’ve taken some important steps towards controlling the stress in your life. You can add to those steps by including mindfulness, gratitude, meditation or yoga in your fitness routine.
For more suggestions, check out the American Heart Association’s resources on understanding and managing stress. These steps can all pay you back with a happier life now – and better health in the long run.