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Heart related illnesses are on the rise in the United States. The American Heart Association reports that approximately 70% of US residents don’t exercise enough. Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet is difficult for many Americans. The combination of these two factors put individuals at a major risk for developing coronary artery disease (CAD). 

CAD occurs when pockets of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other materials adhere to the arteries surrounding the heart. As these deposits build up, the artery becomes increasingly narrow, limiting blood flow, and eventually restricting it completely. The heart muscle grows weak and can eventually stop working all together, resulting in a heart attack or heart failure. Those with certain risk factors, like high blood pressure, are even more susceptible to developing CAD or another cardiovascular disease

According to the CDC, heart disease kills 1 in 4 Americans each year. Coronary Artery Disease is the leading type of heart disease, taking approximately 365,000 lives a year. Fortunately, most instances of heart disease, including CAD, are preventable through moderate lifestyle choices and changes as they relate to diet and exercise. 

Individuals of all ages and varying health conditions can start taking steps today to strengthen the heart and stave off coronary related issues. Taking action is important. Here are some different ways for strengthening the heart. 

Straightforward Tips for Strengthening the Heart

  • Tip 1: Cultivate a more active lifestyle: As Americans, many of us are naturally sedentary throughout the day. We drive to work, occupy desks, and have to prioritize movement. Look for simple switches that ramp up the activity in your day-to-day habits. Swap driving for walking or cycling when applicable. Instead of hiring lawn care, opt to do it yourself. Americans are spending so much more time now sitting and it shows in our country’s overall health profile. An active lifestyle used to come naturally but now it’s crucial to make sure yours is one of daily, moderate fitness. 
  • Tip 2: Get 30 mins of aerobic exercise daily. Regular physical activity is great, however, increasing our heart rate for a certain amount of time each day works wonders in strengthening the heart muscle. A strong heart is more efficient, pumping blood throughout its chambers without over exerting itself. Running, cycling, swimming, playing sports like volleyball, basketball, or pickleball, and hiking are all awesome, engaging forms of aerobic exercise. Regular exercise means at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, which isn’t a lot when you consider just how many hours make up an entire day. Especially when your heart health is on the line. Plus, exercise has the added benefit of decreasing your risk of high blood pressure, facilitating weight loss, and fostering a better mood. 
  • Tip 3: Improve your diet. Certain ingredients – like trans fats, saturated fats, high levels of sodium, and chemicals need to be avoided when heart health is a goal. Opt for lean proteins, whole, unprocessed foods, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, avocados, Greek yogurt, and antioxidant-rich fruits. Eating as much fresh, local produce and lean meat as possible will help you avoid packaged foods that are usually laden with sodium and sugar.
  • Tip 4: Lower cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol – bad (LDL – low-density lipoprotein) and good (HDL – high-density lipoprotein). Certain foods can counteract bad cholesterol while promoting good, whereas others do the opposite. Exercise and clean eating are two of the most surefire ways to keep LDL cholesterol in check. These practices also keep body weight in check and minimize overexertion of the organ systems. Once cholesterol is high, cardiologists may prescribe cholesterol lowering medicine and a very strict diet. It’s best to err on the side of caution so your heart can keep working efficiently. 
  • Tip 5: Limit drinking. Alcohol puts undue stress on the entire physical body, including the heart. It has the ability to increase blood pressure, ramp up anxiety, cultivate depression, and make us physically ill. Skip alcohol and opt for a mocktail instead to avoid the harmful effects of alcohol. One poor night’s sleep can throw off our energy levels, appetite, and mood, meaning we may bow out of exercise, choose the fatty, greasy meal option, and get unnecessarily stressed about work. If you must indulge in alcohol, participate in moderation and choose beverages that are low in alcohol-content, like a light beer. 

Lesser Known Tips for Strengthening the Heart

  • Tip 6: Focus on your gum health. Who knew that heart health was directly linked to our oral hygiene? Gum disease has been frequently linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease. Inadequate dental hygiene can cause infection in the mouth and gums. When these infections travel through the blood vessels to the heart, certain types of heart diseases can occur. Brush regularly, see your dentist for routine cleanings, and don’t skip flossing. 
  • Tip 7: Get your sleep. Sleep is the most restorative process that our bodies partake in on a daily basis. Just one bad night of sleep can throw off our entire mental and physical health. Insomnia or even a lack of sleep due to working, partying, kids, or screen time alters our appetites, energy levels, and adrenal system. When we lack energy, our bodies can start to crave quick fixes – sugar, soda, and carbs. What’s more, when we don’t feel equipped to handle anxiety-inducing situations, we are more likely to reach for other coping mechanisms outside the body such as alcohol or cigarettes. Getting a good night’s sleep is all about the prep work. Don’t eat a large meal right before bed. Nix the screens and opt to read. Ensure your bedroom is just cold enough and there are no noises or lights that would prohibit you from falling asleep. 
  • Tip 8: Drink plenty of water. Our bodies and the cells that make them up are composed mostly of this precious resource. Water helps many minerals, vitamins, and waste move through the body and arrive where they need to go. Poor hydration can instigate headaches, body aches, fatigue, cravings, and so much more. Carry a reusable water bottle around and set a goal to drink at least 64 oz a day. Not only will your heart thank you, but your entire physical body is bound to feel better when it’s properly hydrated. 
  • Tip 9: Stop smoking. What was once a best-kept secret is no longer, cigarettes are toxic. Inhaling cigarette smoke whether through first hand or second hand smoke is a leading cause of death throughout the world. Cigarette use kills almost half-a-million Americans each year, and it is preventable. When cigarette smoke is inhaled, so are all of the toxins that make up that cigarette. These toxins travel through the bloodstream, coming into contact with vessels, arteries, and the heart. This constant barrage of toxic substances can eventually lead to cardiovascular disease. For resources on smoking cessation, visit our patient portal. A medical professional or mental health professional will be able to offer various resources on quitting this addictive habit. 

Heart Health is in Your Hands 

  • Tip 10: Get your annual. An annual physical allows your doctor to create a medical history and be aware of any new issues that arise. For those with existing heart issues, schedule a yearly check up with an Orlando cardiologist. Use UCF Health’s online scheduling tool to conveniently book an appointment. 

For those who are in higher risk categories of developing heart disease, you can start working your way towards better heart health through these strengthening practices. 

For the majority of people, heart health can be completely controlled. For the few with genetic predispositions to heart issues, it’s even more crucial to start preventative practices to make sure the heart muscle stays as healthy as possible. Heart issues, even when not fatal, can drastically hinder one’s quality of life, limiting exercise, causing chest pain, and creating stress

UCF Health offers numerous resources on healthy lifestyle practices, including information on heart-healthy foods, COVID-19 updates for patients, and exercise programs. Don’t hesitate, contact our health care professionals today and take charge of your physical and mental well-being.