6 Ways to Have a Healthy Heart

Take action against heart disease during American Heart Month.

One action to take during American Heart Month? Stop smoking. Studies show women benefit greatly from kicking the habit. Photography courtesy of Shutterstock.

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

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.