When you hear the word “heart” what do you think about? Do you think about a heart attack or do you think about love, do you think about health or do you think about kindness and generosity? Maybe some of you will think about Ann and Nancy Wilson and will get the song “Barracuda” stuck in your heads but this is not the heart I am talking about.
I am not sure if you’ve heard about it or not but February was heart awareness month. I know that February is long gone (I might be a little behind but I do have a calendar on my desktop ) but our heart is with us every day and every second of our lives. Do we really need to be aware of it just one month a year?
A healthy and strong heart is what lets us enjoy our life, it lets us be healthy and happy, it lets us be open to new experiences and love. Our heart is what makes us alive in a physical and spiritual sense. Your heart is the ultimate indicator of how much balance you have in your life because your lifestyle has the biggest impact on your ticker.
I want to challenge you to take care of your heart today and every day from now on. There are hundreds of things that you can do that will ensure that your heart stays young (in both senses) all your life.
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22
Taking care of your heart only physically is not enough. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that keeping your weight under control, having your BMI under 30, being active and not smoking reduced risks of dying prematurely of any chronic disease (including cardiovascular disease) by 80%! (Can you think of any pill that can do the same?) But these changes will not be enough if you forget about the other side of your heart. That side is rejuvenated through kindness, love, affection, friendship and faith. Let me show you 77 (+7) ways how you can keep your heart healthy and open to the world every day of your life.
- Keep your plate bright.
The more colorful your diet is the more phytonutrients you are getting that can ward off heart disease, obesity and cancer.
- Be sweet savvy.
A diet high in sugars (just two or three sweetened drinks are already too much) leads to high blood pressure. Cut down on any refined sugars and especially high fructose corn syrup.
- Use natural sweeteners.
If you still want to satisfy your sweet cravings opt for natural sweeteners like fruit, honey and organic maple syrup because these sweet treats combine sugar (fructose) with vitamins and fiber that are so important for a healthy heart. Do not go overboard though, everything is good in moderation.
- Follow the 80%-20% rule.
It is great to eat healthy all the time but it is virtually impossible. Leave a 20% room for any unhealthy cravings (fast food on a road trip or a big party with chips and creamy dips).
- Cut back on saturated fats.
No matter what your age and risk factors are it will help you to lower your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and live a longer life. Limit saturated fat to 7% of your daily calories (10 to 11 grams).
- Reduce your sodium intake.
Sodium increases your risks of hypertension that makes your heart work harder (and wear out faster.) Table salt is usually not your biggest enemy because most of the sodium in our diets come from fast foods and processed foods.
- Eat a clean diet.
Clean diet is the one that is low in processed foods and that uses as many natural products as possible. Some of the examples are eating an orange instead of drinking orange juice, fixing your own chicken for sandwiches instead of using deli meats, choosing whole wheat bread and pasta instead of white varieties.
- Be full of beans.
One third of a cup of cooked beans daily can lower your chances of having a heart attack by 38%.
- Cut back on breakfast cereals.
While there are some healthy options most cereals are far from being a healthy start of the day. Too much sugar, no vitamins or fiber, high levels of sodium and even trans fats turn this traditional breakfast food into a disaster for your heart. Before you buy your next box take your time to read the label and choose the most natural and healthy cereal.
- Sip some tea.
The antioxidants in green and black tea improve blood vessel function and increase blood flow. Drink your tea without sugar (eat a few dried apricots or add some honey to give it a sweet note) and choose organic loose tea that has not been stripped of all healthy nutrients.
- Go bananas.
Bananas are the most heart healthy fruits because they have high levels of potassium. Dried apricots and prunes are also excellent sources of this mineral.
- Have a baked potato.
Spuds are a top source of potassium, a mineral that can offset the effects of sodium.
- Drink your veggies.
You can get an extra serving of vegetables by drinking a low sodium vegetable juice. It is even better to make your own juice at home and drink it for breakfast (do not forget to add some apples and carrots to make this juice drinkable )
- Go Italian.
Italian cuisine uses tomatoes and tomato sauce abundantly and it is your best bet to lower your risks of heart attack or stroke by 65%. Spaghetti with Marinara sauce, vegetarian lasagna and pizza with half the cheese and double the sauce are excellent ideas for any heart-healthy meals.
- Eat salmon and sardines for lunch.
These varieties of fish are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids that protect you against inflammation and lower triglycerides. Have a salmon sandwich instead of tuna or mix sardines with spicy mustard and red onions and serve them with bread or crackers.
- Spice up your meals.
Onions and garlic might not be your best choice if you are going on a romantic date or an important interview but they can remove excess LDL cholesterol from your body. Onions and garlic also will give a nice flavor to any dish without adding extra salt or fat.
- Get hot.
Hot peppers (and hot sauce of course) contain a chemical called capsaicin that protects your heart and arteries from any possible problems. You can read more here
- Start your day with oatmeal.
It won’t only give you enough energy to survive the most demanding day, it will also lower your cholesterol and general risks of heart disease. Top it with blueberries, bananas or walnuts or sprinkle some cinnamon to make it deliciously healthy.
- Be smart when eating out.
Just because you are going out does not mean that you should forget about heart healthy meals. Most restaurants can cook healthy meals in a way that you have never tried them before (your taste buds won’t even notice the difference.) Share portions or take half of the portion home, avoid appetizers and bread with butter, ask your waiter for sauces and gravies on the side, do not order fried, breaded or tempura dishes. Ask your waiter how your meal is prepared and what ingredients are used.
- Satisfy your eyes not only your mouth.
Moderate eating is the best strategy to keep your weight under control (weight is one of the decisive factors when it comes to heart disease). If you make your meal look pleasing to the eye you will get satisfied faster without consuming extra calories. One of the reasons why every meal at a restaurant tastes so good is because chefs take time to organize every plate in the most eye-pleasing way.
- Cut down on coffee consumption.
There are studies that suggest that coffee is beneficial to your heart in the long run but moderation is the key in this case. One medium Starbucks has the daily allowed amount of caffeine so do not go overboard. One cup of coffee a day is a safe way to benefit your heart, help you wake up and satisfy your cravings.
- Go nuts.
Nuts can help you lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol while providing your body with essential fatty acids, fiber and protein. Walnuts are considered the best nuts because they have the highest amount of omega-3s but other nuts (almonds, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts) are good too. Eat about a handful a day as a snack or mix them into the salad or main dish. Remember that you can cancel out the health benefits of nuts if they are covered with salt, chocolate or sugar.
- Order curry at a restaurant (or cook it yourself!)
The spice that gives curry its vibrant yellow color is turmeric. This spice has been used in Asian medicine for a long time and recent research suggests that curcumin (a natural ingredient in turmeric and ginger) can dramatically decrease the chances of developing heart failure, reverse and prevent cardiac hypertrophy. This spice also has a dozen other health benefits that will improve your health and mood at the same time. Turmeric tastes great if you add it to chicken, beans, rice, beef and vegetables. Experiment in the chicken or make a reservation at an Indian restaurant.
- Have dark chocolate for dessert.
Dark chocolate (70% cacao content or higher) has shown to lower blood pressure. Eat a few squares for a desert or drink some dark cocoa (avoid sugar as much as possible) to take care of your heart and taste buds.
- Drink red wine (in moderation.)
Red wine is considered one of the reasons Mediterranean diet is so healthy for your heart. Low amounts of alcohol together with antioxidants prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol and protecting against artery damage.
- Cut back on eating out and take-outs.
We all know that restaurant portions are oversized but most dishes are also high in sodium or fat. eating out a couple of times a month won’t harm you but making it a weekly practice can harm your heart, waste line and wallet all at the same time. Be smart!
- Eat mindfully.
Mindful eating is when you eat only when you are hungry (not stressed or bored), when you pay attention to the way your food tastes and when you take your time savoring every bite (as opposed to shoveling it down on the run). If you eat mindfully you will be able to lose unnecessary weight and prevent the scale from creeping up.
- Read food labels.
Avoid foods with any partially hydrogenated oils, saturated fat and especially trans fats because they are deadly for your body and heart.
- Snack on dried fruit.
Dried fruit have the same health benefits as regular ones but in concentrated form. They are rich in fiber (essential for lowering cholesterol), vitamins and potassium. I love munching on dried dates, apricots or prunes. They are a healthy way for me to satisfy my sweet tooth and take care of my heart at the same time.
- Be active all day.
If you are active in little ways throughout the day (gardening, cleaning the house, running errands) then your heart will be healthier than the one of a person who exercises for 30-60 minutes and then sits at the computer all day long.
- Interval training.
It is the best type of exercise for prevention of heart disease and diabetes. Follow a 3:1 ratio while exercising (3 minutes of moderately paced activities followed by 1 minute of high intensity activities.) You can try it while walking and running or you can combine different types of exercise like lunges and jumps. Just 20 minutes of interval training is as effective for your heart as the whole hour of moderate exercise.
- Be flexible.
A recent study in Japan has found that people who were limber after 40 has 30% less stiffness in the arteries. Stretch for 10-15 minutes every day to keep your arteries pliable.
- Try Yoga.
Yoga does not provide any cardiovascular benefits as any aerobic activity does but it lowers your levels of stress and keeps your arteries elastic. Yoga also soothes your nervous system which lowers blood pressure and makes heart rates steady.
- Add resistance bands to your home gym.
This inexpensive prop can spruce up any boring workout and help you build muscle mass that reduces your body fat and raises levels of good cholesterol (HDL.)
- Follow these guidelines.
The American Heart Association recommends that you get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity on 5 days of the week or 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise on 3 days each week. Strength training is recommended at least 2 times every week.
- Do enjoyable exercise.
It is important for your body to move and for your heart to get a workout but it is also important to enjoy what you are doing. If you love your type of exercise then you are more likely to stick with for many healthy years. You will experience body and mind benefits if you choose wisely.
- Cuddle up with a fur ball.
A recent study (published in USA Today) shows that cat owners cut their risks of heart attack by almost a third. Scientists suggest that dogs provide similar benefits because both help to relieve stress of their owners.
- Quit smoking.
This one does not need explanation if you want to have a healthy life.
- Keep your BMI under 30 (preferably around 18.5-25).
BMI is a body mass index that can be easily calculated using this formula BMI = (weight in pounds)*703/(height in inches)2
Mine is 18.8. What is yours?
- Get busy under sheets. Men and women who have sex at least 2-3 times a week decrease their risks of heart disease by 50% (study published in the American Journal of Cardiology). Isn’t it a good enough reason to have a romantic night out today (and every day)?
- Take a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin D (the one that is important for your bone strength) also plays a very important role in protecting you from heart disease. Vitamin D deficiency doubles the risks of dying from a heart disease by 50% (according to the Framingham Heart Study). Ask your physician to test your blood for vitamin D and take a supplement if needed.
- Go out in the sunshine.
Vitamin D (as stated in the previous tip) is essential for the heart health. Before you start taking any supplements spend 10-15 minutes in the noon sun on most days of the week. Do not use any sunscreen during this sunshine exposure because sunscreen blocks UV-B light bands that produce vitamin D in our bodies. Wear a hat and cover your face but let as many parts of your body as possible be exposed to the sun.
- Get enough sleep.
Anxiety, bad mood and irritability are not the only consequences of not getting enough sleep. Skimping on sleep can promote calcium buildup in the arteries, which can lead to a heart-attack causing plaque.
- Listen to joyful and calming music.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that the emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function. Music provides the same effects as laughter so tune into your favorite melody as often as possible.
- Have a few green plants in your house.
Seeing green increases happiness and creativity and decreases stress levels according to a study from Washington State University. Plants also clean the air in your house or office from pollutants like chemicals and dust that can trigger rapid spikes in blood pressure.
Going out with your friends can be as heart-healthy as hitting the gym. Lonely people who do not communicate with their friends a lot had 10-30 points higher blood pressure than their more sociable peers.
- Detach from stuff.
We surround ourselves with tons of things that make our life easier, that bring certain pleasures into our lives and that look nice or help us kill time when we are bored. Practice detachment from all this stuff and you will find your heart to be much more open to everything around you.
- Have a plan for a stressful situation.
We cannot avoid all stressful situations in our life but we can prepare for them. Make it a rule to think of one positive thing in your life whenever stressful thoughts start creeping into your head or carry a list of things that you are grateful for. Another idea is to have a few pictures of the happiest moments of your life or people who always bring happiness in your life with you.
- Take a tech break.
Being plugged in all the time puts you on the edge and increases the production of stress hormones that cause your blood pressure to rise. Turn off your cell-phone in the evening, do not check your email and log off any IM system. Have this time to yourself, not somebody else.
Meditation calms your mind and your heart at the same time. Practice it daily or at least 3 times a week.
- Get organized.
Why is it relevant to your heart? Cluttered environments suppress your productivity and increase your stress levels which affect the health of your heart.
- Stop being a perfectionist.
Perfectionism will cause a lot of unnecessary stress in your life that will eventually damage your heart. When you feel that you are striving for the perfect whatever, repeat to yourself “Good is good enough.”
- Enjoy your time in silence and solitude.
Make it a habit to spend some time alone weekly to let your mind float away, your stress dissolve in the air and your heart open to the miracles of the world.
- Slow down in life.
Fast paced life leads to depression and stress, it undermines your ability to enjoy time with your family or doing things you love. All these factors are important for a healthy and open heart.
- Have a “me” break.
Giving, working, helping, taking care of others are all honorable missions but you need some time for yourself. Do not consider it pampering or selfishness. This is your chance to get reacquainted with yourself and to have some rest from the world around you (no matter how wonderful it might be.)
- Let yourself relax.
Being in the “always-ready” condition is very stressful. Let somebody else take care of the kids, order a take-out (not more than twice a month, remember?), take a day off at work and let yourself completely relax. Your heart will enjoy this break from your busy lifestyle.
Happiness and Kindness
- Surround yourself with positive people.
Negative friends can drain you and increase your levels of stress. Try to hang out only with positive people and you will notice how your own levels of optimism will shift.
- Be happy.
According to a recent study in Nova Scotia, Canada, happiness and general positivity protects heart from any degenerative disease.
Just 15 minutes of laughter daily can boost your blood flow by 22 percent and prevent your arteries from hardening. Call a funny friend or watch a comedy every day.
- Speak up.
Bottling up your feelings won’t do your heart or your relationships any favor. If something is bothering you bring it up and resolve the issue once and for all.
- Do something enjoyable.
In order to up your happiness levels spend 15-20 minutes a day doing something that you like. Do not abandon it if your schedule gets too busy.
- Practice random acts of kindness.
While you are taking care of your physical heart do not forget that you are more complex than a machine. Kind heart is as important as low cholesterol for your health. Be kind for no apparent reason and find deepest joy in this kindness.
- Savor joyful events.
If something amazing happens in your life remember this event and go over it when you are feeling down.
- Practice forgiveness.
Holding a grudge will harden your heart and close it to the entire world. Forgive people and move on with your life.
- Visualize your best self.
If you are not satisfied with yourself then think of what would make you completely happy with yourself. Visualize this picture every day and start taking small steps to reach this goal.
- Be generous.
Generosity boosts happiness on an everyday basis. Start small by giving smiles to everybody around you and give as much as your heart wants to.
- Be positive.
Both optimists and pessimists have bad days but optimists get over those days quickly while pessimists savor their sufferings and complain about their lives constantly. No matter what the day brings you choose to be positive and concentrate on good things around you.
- Express your heart’s desires.
Our creativity is born in our heart and if we suppress any spark of it then we also block our hearts from happiness. Express whatever is born in your heart to keep your heart young and open for life.
- Show some self love.
Take care of your needs as much as you take care of others. Even though being generous is a key to keeping your heart young you must still learn to be generous to yourself. Do not be a martyr because the times when it was appreciated are long gone.
- Say a prayer.
Open your heart to God and he will take care of you. Say a prayer from your heart and you will feel that any of your burdens have been lifted and your heart will be touched by Him.
- Practice gratitude.
Be grateful for what you have and for what will come, be grateful even for what you do not have because chances are that you are better off without it.
- Try something new.
Keep your heart open to new experiences by trying something new as often as possible. This practice will keep your heart agile and young for many years and when you are 60, 70 or 100 you will not consider yourself an old wreck. You will be a person who has lived (and is still living) his/her life with a young heart.
- Follow your passion.
Following your passion will help you live a more fulfilling life, it will help you fight stress in life and be happy in general. If you can earn living by following your passion then it is great, go for it! But if not, just devote some time in your busy schedule to do what you are passionate about whether it is writing, cooking or just playing with your kids.
- Help somebody.
Helping people around you whether these are people you know or complete strangers is the best way to keep your heart open, kind and young. According to the research Peggy Thoits, Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, volunteering increased happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and decreased depression. It is healthy to be good.
- Kiss, hug, touch.
Little things like holding hands, hugging, kissing lovingly and cuddling are the signs of a strong couple. Strong couples have better emotional and intellectual connections, they have better and more frequent sex and they have less amounts of stress (which leads to heart disease.) This is a no-brainer, if you want to take care of your heart take care of your relationship and treasure the connection (physical and mental) that you have. By the way, non-sexual hugs and touches with friends or family members have proved to increase happiness and even lower blood pressure (hold a hug for at least 6 seconds.)
- Be patient.
Patience brings many benefits but the most heart-healthy one is less stress in your life. You do not have to get mad when you sit in a traffic jam or waste your time standing in a line. Distract yourself with pleasant thoughts about your family, plan your supper ahead of time or think about ideas for a new business.
- Find your virtues.
A strong heart is a virtuous heart because this heart knows how to do the right thing for the right reason.
- Do not let your heart go numb.
When you feel that you avoid new experiences, new emotions, new adventures because you are scared of pain and disappointment, know that you are intentionally blocking your heart. You are suffocating it by not letting it live and breathe fully. Do not be scared, open up and embrace life (instead of hiding from it.)
- Share experience with your loved ones.
Our society has become too materialistic. Our expression of love (or apology) usually has a price tag on it. Money can buy you a comfortable life but it can’t buy you happiness. Spend quality time with the people you care about and enjoy every moment together.
- See miracles around you.
Our life is full of miracles that we often do not notice. Train yourself to see those miracles around you (a birth of a child or wonderful butterfly in your yard are both miracles) and you will notice that your life will get more positive.
- Find the meaning of your life.
Meaningless life leads to an empty heart and an empty heart has no way of staying healthy and young. Live a meaningful life that fills your heart.
- Be childlike (not childish).
Children are honest, joyful, full of energy, open to the world, full of love for the entire world, not scared of anything and absolutely adorable. Play with them, spend as much time with them as possible and learn from them. This is the best way to maintain your youthfulness inside and out.
- Enjoy your life.
Focus on enjoying every moment of your life and making every moment count. What is the point of living a life even with a healthy heart if this life is empty and boring? Do things, try things, be brave, lose your fears, love, be passionate and stay positive. Make decisions that you will be proud of and avoid mistakes that you will regret. Make it all count!
- Be in love.
Love opens our hearts and makes us bloom all year round. Cherish the love that you have and try to stay in love until the last day of your life.Love and magic have a great deal in common. They enrich the soul, delight the heart. And they both take practice. – Nora Roberts
I am not asking you to read the whole list at one time. I just hope that you will bookmark it and get back to it whenever you feel that you can bring a little more balance into your life.
Keep it balanced!