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Three Steps Toward a Happier Heart

By Andre Bierzynski

As your heart beats, so goes the rhythm of your life. Keeping this amazing organ silently working well in the background as you go about your day takes smart nutrition, regular fitness and stress management. Here are a few heart-health tips to help.

Nutrition

Diet has a huge effect on your heart — and not only because of cholesterol. Think about it: Your heart is a muscle. Muscles need protein and nutrients for optimal tone and health.

Your heart will be less prone to cardiovascular disease if you eat a smart diet that includes a variety of choices from each food group, advises the American Heart Association (AHA). AHA recommends:

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Non-tropical vegetable oils

Of course, it’s not only about what we eat, but also how much. Keeping our calorie intake to roughly the amount we’re burning off each day helps keep our weight in line. AHA notes that while the nutrition and calorie details on most food labels is usually based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, your body might need fewer or more calories, depending on your age, gender and physical activity level.

Fitness

By keeping our heart muscle strong, we help it pump more blood with less effort, which in turn reduces blood pressure and stress. AHA says a smart fitness routine helps maintain heart health.

That doesn’t mean we need to live in the gym all day long, but for some of us it might mean making fitness a higher priority and building new habits into our daily routine. Shooting for a total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week is a good start.

There are all kinds of simple ways to get moving during our work day: standing during meetings and phone calls, parking the car at the far end of the lot to increase your number of steps, walking a couple of times around your building during lunch.

If you’re not already on a solid workout plan, check with your doctor before joining the local gym or taking up jogging. A combination of moderate- and high-intensity exercise that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes or so a day should help you build your capacity for physical activity.

Stress Reduction

While stress is an everyday reality for many of us, excessive stress has an unhealthy effect on our heart. Stress causes our bodies to release adrenaline, which speeds up heart rate and breathing while boosting blood pressure.

Managing our stress levels should be an intentional part of our personal heart-health strategy. Different stress-reducing techniques work more or less effectively for different people, so it’s best to just use what’s best for you. Some people swear by yoga and meditation. Others prefer a quiet walk in the woods or a vigorous mountain-bike ride.

And still others lower their stress by playing with pets. Not everyone wants the responsibility of pet ownership, though, so some entrepreneurs in the U.S. and other countries have opened up businesses devoted to interacting with animals in a fun, social atmosphere. An outfit called Crumbs & Whiskers offers a kitten lounge in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. And Portland, Oregon, has what claims to be the world’s first dog taphouse, called Fido’s.

Helpful Resource

The “Let’s Be Well Heart Healthy Box” is packed with helpful information and tools (sorry, no kittens or puppies are included). It was developed by AARP in collaboration with the American Heart Association. Get yours at LetsBeWell.com.