Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) cause 17 million deaths globally every year, making it the leading cause of death around the world.
The cardiovascular system—which includes your heart and blood vessels—distributes oxygen through the body and removes waste. Every cell in the body depends on this process to run smoothly.
Your cardiovascular system plays a key role in your overall health and longevity. In today’s article, we’ll share three tips to improve your cardiovascular health.
Why is diet important?
Certain nutrients, foods, and minerals can affect how well the cardiovascular system functions.
Excess sodium can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. One study showed that eating a diet high in sodium may cause water retention—straining the heart as it works harder to move extra fluid through the body. It’s recommended most adults limit their intake to 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Consuming too many unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) can cause high cholesterol, which increases the chance of coronary artery disease. When cholesterol is too high, plaque can build up in the arteries—putting you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
Try avoiding too many unhealthy fats like fatty meats, dairy, and fried foods. Instead, do your best to eat good fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
So what foods and nutrients support cardiovascular health?
High-fiber diets have many benefits, like:
- Controlling blood sugar levels
- Reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- Maintaining and achieving a healthy weight
- Lowering total blood cholesterol levels by lowering “bad” cholesterol levels.
Whole grains—or grains that haven’t been refined to remove their bran and germ—are a good source of fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure and boost heart health. Foods like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain pasta are great options. Or choose whole grains like barley, quinoa, buckwheat, and brown rice instead of refined grains like white rice or things made with white flour.
Vegetables and fruits are both low in calories and rich in fiber—and have other nutrients that may help prevent CVD. Load up on red, yellow, and orange produce like carrots, red peppers, and tomatoes; they contain carotenoids and vitamins that can nourish heart health. Berries are full of heart-healthy phytonutrients—try throwing some in a smoothie or your morning oatmeal.
Your heart is a muscle just like your biceps and calves—exercise can strengthen it.
The benefits of exercise include:
- Lower blood pressure. Exercising can help lower blood pressure and slow your resting heart rate.
- Reduced inflammation. As bodily systems are activated through exercise, the body adapts and reduces chronic inflammation.
- Healthy weight. Being overweight can put stress on the heart and cause buildup in arteries, increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. Exercise, when paired with a healthy diet, can help to maintain a healthy weight.
- Strengthened muscles and bodily systems. A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is recommended to improve your muscles' ability to draw oxygen from the blood. This reduces the need for your heart to work harder to pump more blood to muscles.
- Reduced stress hormones. Exercise reduces stress hormones, which put a burden on the heart. Many studies also suggest that people who exercise consistently are less likely to suffer from a sudden heart attack.
If you’re looking to exercise more, a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training has been shown to be best for heart health.
Aerobic exercise, also fittingly called “cardio,” relies on breathing to fuel the activation of large muscle groups for a sustained period of time. Aerobic literally means “with oxygen.” It improves circulation to lower blood pressure and heart rate. It can also help your heart pump stronger. Ideally, for healthy individuals, a routine of 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is best. But beginners should take their time and work their way up. If you are managing health conditions or haven’t exercised in a while, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about what exercise program is right for you. Aerobic exercises include:
- Jump rope
- Brisk walking
Resistance training, also known as strength training, has a more direct effect on body composition. Resistance training grows and strengthens muscle mass while reducing body fat. One study found that one hour per week of resistance training also reduced a specific type of fat around the heart, potentially reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Some examples of resistance training include:
- Weight machines
- Resistance bands
- Free weight workouts (dumbbells and barbells)
- Body weight exercises (pushups, chin-ups, squats)
Exercise is a powerful practice to support cardiovascular health—especially in combination with a healthy diet. If possible, make a plan to get moving this week.
Habits can also play a big role in the health of your heart.
Higher stress levels may cause higher blood pressure—amplifying your risk of heart attack and stroke.
To reduce stress, find time for hobbies that help you relax. Practices like meditation can also help reduce stress. Or try reaching out to a loved one to talk and catch up.
Don’t skip out on regular checkups. Finding potential health issues early can help you get the right treatment quickly and avoid any unnecessary complications.
What are habits to avoid?
Alcohol and smoking can lead to poor heart health.
According to the CDC, smoking causes around 1 in 4 deaths from CVD. Chemicals found in tobacco smoke cause cells that line blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. This narrows the blood vessels—leading to cardiovascular conditions.
Excessive drinking can lead to heart failure, high blood pressure, or stroke. It can also contribute to cardiomyopathy—a disorder that affects the heart muscle. Alcohol is high in calories too. Excessive drinking can lead to weight gain and becoming overweight, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Conclusion: 3 tips to improve your cardiovascular health
Maintaining and improving cardiovascular health starts with your lifestyle. If you can eat better, exercise regularly, and avoid bad habits you may begin to build a more robust cardiovascular system. Adopting a new lifestyle can be challenging, but making small changes on a daily basis can help you establish healthy habits to improve your overall health and well-being. By taking things one day at a time, you can gradually build a foundation of healthy behaviors that will benefit you in the long run.
If you learned anything new, share this with a friend or family member who could benefit from learning about these tips for better cardiovascular health.