Medically reviewed on February 15, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body. The average heart expands and contracts about 60 to 100 times per minute, which is around 100,000 beats in a day . All that effort is to pump upwards of 2,000 gallons of blood throughout the entire system every single day.
While an at-home heart health test can provide you with a comprehensive look at certain indicators of heart health, you should also consider what you can do to help your heart on a daily basis. Keep reading to learn how to improve heart health below.
Smoking comes with an extensive list of problems and negative effects on health, from general breathing problems to an increased risk of cancer . It’s probably no surprise to learn that smoking also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The chemicals found in tobacco and cigarettes cause the cells in blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. That causes the blood vessels to become narrower. This adds extra pressure to the heart, increases heart rate, and causes irregular heart rhythms, all of which forces the heart to work harder. The chemicals in cigarettes can also cause plaque to build up in the arteries and increase cholesterol levels.
There is no right amount of smoking. Even light or occasional smokers are causing undue damage to the heart and cardiovascular system, putting themselves at risk for heart disease.
Smoking is, unfortunately, a difficult habit to kick, but there are various strategies and products that can support smoking cessation. The good news is that the heart and lungs can heal almost instantly after quitting smoking. Within a year of quitting, heart attack risk drops dramatically.
The food that you eat will naturally influence heart health. There is no one magic food or perfect diet that will instantly improve the heart. Heart-healthy diets mostly consist of what you’ve likely heard time and time again: plenty of fruits and vegetables, more lean sources of protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and fewer processed foods containing added sodium and/or sugars . Consult your healthcare provider before making any significant changes to diet.
More on eating healthy: What to eat on a low cholesterol diet
The heart is a muscular organ made of mostly cardiac muscle, and much like any muscle, working out can help build the heart muscle up and make it stronger and more efficient. The exact exercise routine might vary, but 30 minutes of physical activity per day on most days of the week can do wonders for heart health . Any type of exercise is better than nothing but try to focus on a workout that increases the heart rate, like cardio, rather than resistance training or strength training if you are focusing on improving cardiovascular health.
Chronic stress has some serious effects on physiological, mental, and emotional health. Chronic stress leads to a constant flood of cortisol and other hormones that can harm the heart by increasing cholesterol and blood pressure and contributing to unhealthy means of coping, like smoking or drinking . To monitor your cholesterol and lipid levels, consider taking an at-home cholesterol test.
More on cholesterol: What causes high cholesterol?
It’s impossible to eliminate all your stress but find healthy and constructive ways to contain everyday stress. Regular exercise is known to reduce stress, but try yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and journaling as outlets for stress.
The average adult should get around seven hours of sleep every night, but many Americans say they get less than that or that their sleep is otherwise not restful. Not getting enough sleep over time can contribute to a whole host of issues, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression . Try to maintain good sleep hygiene and avoid using any screens a few hours prior to bedtime. Consult your healthcare provider to determine if a sleep study would be right for you.
Heavy drinking contributes to a wide range of health issues, including some that affect heart health. Excessive drinking can contribute to high blood pressure and high triglycerides. Combining high triglyceride levels with high cholesterol can increase the buildup of fatty plaques, which then increases the risk of heart attack or stroke .
There is no hard rule about how much to drink; however, moderation is strongly advised. If you find yourself drinking more each day, consider cutting back. While some studies suggest that red wine is “healthy,” there is actually little evidence to suggest any amount of alcohol is good for the heart. Many of the flavonoids and antioxidants found in red wine can easily be found in other foods, so don’t make that an excuse to drink red wine.
Seeing your healthcare provider regularly keeps you on top of your heart health and allows you to detect any issues before they become problems. Your healthcare provider can also make recommendations to improve heart health.
Along with the above tips, consider taking the Everlywell Heart Health Test. This simple test provides a comprehensive look at heart health, including cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, HbA1c, and hs-CRP, all with a simple finger prick sample that you can collect in the comfort of your own home. You can discuss these results with your healthcare provider and determine the next steps to keep your heart strong.
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3. 8 steps to a heart-healthy diet. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.
4. Fitness: Getting and Staying Active. Kaiser Permanente. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.
5. Stress and Heart Health. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.
6. How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.
7. Alcohol and Heart Health. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.