For obvious reasons, we owe a lot to our hearts. The vital organ is always there for us, pumping out oxygen to our muscles on that five-mile run, working night and day. But statistics show that we’re not returning the favor. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women; it’s the cause of one in every four deaths in the US each year. In DC alone, 1,300 residents died from heart disease in 2010.
So whether you’re already at risk of developing heart disease or want to avoid it at all costs, consider these tips for keeping your heart happy in honor of February’s American Heart Month.
1) Add some color to your meals.
From salmon to chia seeds to dark chocolate, these foods have many heart-protective nutrients, including a good dose of omega-3s. One helpful hint to make sure you’re eating the right foods is to give your meals the “rainbow effect,” a mix of colorful fruits and vegetables. Also consult our guide to five heart-healthy foods.
2) Get hitched.
Okay, so marriage isn’t for everyone. But new research shows that being unmarried or single increases the risk of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks in men and women, no matter the age. The study authors suggested that married folks enjoy higher levels of support and earlier intervention. They’re also more likely to nurse the partner back to health post-hospital treatment.
3) Exercise at high intensity.
A 2012 study published in the journal BMJ Open found that men and women who exercise at a high intensity reduce their risk of metabolism syndrome (a group of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease) by as much as 50 percent. Those who walked for an hour a day experienced little change (although walking is better than being a couch potato). Find the right plan for you in our collection of Well+Being workouts.
4) Chill out.
High stress is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, especially among those between 43 and 74 years old, according to a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology. “We think that stress may be compounding over time,” said lead author Dr. Donald Edmondson. “Someone who reports high perceived stress at age 60 may also have felt high stress at ages 40 and 50.” Check out our guide to seven quick stress relievers.
5) Stop smoking.
It’s easier said than done, but a December 2012 study’s sobering results may be reason enough to quit smoking. The study found that women who light up as little as once a day more than double their risk of sudden cardiac death. The nicotine, researchers said, can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, boosting a woman’s risk of sudden cardiac death.
6) Know your risks.
You’re at major risk of developing heart disease if you have high blood cholesterol and blood pressure, don’t exercise, are obese or overweight, smoke, or have diabetes. Take measures to avoid falling into one of these categories, or, if you’re already at risk, consult your doctor for advice on the next steps to take.