Eight steps to a healthy heart

There are eight ways you can improve your heart health and decrease your risk of heart-related illnesses and complications, no matter your age or lifestyle. Christopher Allen, M.D., interventional cardiologist at Oklahoma Heart Institute, shares these tips.

1. Stop or decrease smoking

Risk factors from smoking include heart disease, chest pains, heart attack, arrhythmias, high blood pressure, damaged heart tissue and heart failure. Your risk for cardiovascular disease and disorders decreases substantially when you stop smoking.

“If you are a smoker, you should stop. Five years after you quit, your risk for cardiovascular disease is back to if you’d never smoked,” said Dr. Allen. 

2. Maintain healthy body mass index (BMI)

BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. Higher BMIs correlate with a higher risk of heart disease and other weight-related illnesses.

“There’s been an explosion in the United States of overweight adults,” said Dr. Allen. “We’re now even treating children as young as 12 to help them control their body weight.”

3. Be physically active

The recommended amount of moderate exercise to keep your heart healthy is 75 minutes of intense exercise per week or 150 minutes of moderate exercise (30 minutes five days per week). Exercise is measured by rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of one to 10, where 10 is exercise that leaves you completely breathless, and five, or moderate, being when you can exercise and breathe evenly enough to speak. 

“That can be cleaning the house, brisk walking, mowing the lawn, light bicycling,” said Dr. Allen. “In other words, you can exercise at a moderate rate and still carry on a conversation.”

4. Keep blood pressure under control

Maintaining a blood pressure of less than 120 over 80 helps keep up a healthy heart. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage your arteries, leading to heart disease. It can also put you at higher risk for heart attacks, strokes and other brain and heart issues.

If you’re diabetic, you should also try to keep your blood sugar under control. Eating healthy foods, exercising, avoiding nicotine and maintaining a healthy weight can help you control blood sugar levels.

5. Keep cholesterol under control

High cholesterol levels, or hyperlipidemia, can cause your arteries to clog with fatty deposits, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

6. Keep a healthy diet

“If you can get your nutrition right, all these other things will fall into place,” said Dr. Allen. “Increase the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet, try to have fish twice a week to replace red meats and eat more nuts, legumes and whole grains.”

Dr. Allen also recommends watching your carbohydrate intake and suggests enjoying alcohol in moderation.

7. Avoid processed foods, excess sugar and salt

You should carefully watch sodium, processed meats and sugar-sweetened drink consumption and try to replace the saturated fats in your diet.

“You should try to stay away from those things as much as possible,” said Dr. Allen. “Try to consume less than 32 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks a day. Processed meats have excessive sodium and nitrates, which increase cancer and cardiovascular risks.”

8. Get adequate sleep

Getting plenty of good sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining heart health. Sleep helps regulate blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels, promoting a balanced and resilient cardiovascular system.

“Epidemiologic study suggests that short sleep duration is associated with increased prevalence of stroke and heart failure. Long sleep duration is associated with higher prevalence of coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke,” said Dr. Allen. “Disordered sleep such as sleep apnea is associated with hypertension, coronary artery disease and significant irregularities of heart beats such as atrial fibrillation and ventricular arrhythmias.”

Dr. Allen recommends aimingfor between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. People with sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea should seek treatment to decrease their risk of adverse events including mortality.

Click here to learn more about the services offered at the Oklahoma Heart Institute.