7-Step Action Plan for a Healthy Heart

Check out this simple healthy-heart plan from YOU: The Owner's Manual


When it comes to the health of your heart, what you do and what you don't do can truly make a difference. That's because lifestyle choices -- like smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise -- can be far more dangerous than hereditary factors.
Here's a step-by-step plan that will help you make smart choices and help get your ticker in top form.

Action 1: Pump Your Heart

For optimal health, you'll need to do enough physical activity to burn between 3,500 and 6,500 calories a week (or roughly 500 to 950 a day). Most of that calorie loss comes from everyday tasks, but science shows that you'll also need about 60 minutes a week of stamina training -- cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe harder. Here's what to do:

Action 2: Know Your Numbers

We're talking the big three -- cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar -- plus, two more you should probably know: homocysteine and C-reactive protein. Consider these numbers a stock ticker for your ticker. They tell you how you're doing, and when you need to do more. When you have them measured, make sure your doctor also tells you what your goal levels should be and what you can do to get there. Getting more active, losing weight, and making smart food choices can help get these numbers in a healthy range.

Action 3: Get Happy

There are lots of reasons to be happy, including your heart health. Negative emotions like anger and hostility can raise blood pressure. People with depression are four times more likely to have a heart attack. And while we don't understand how emotional stress causes physical stress, we do know there's a powerful connection. To get yourself in a better mind-set, adopt a more positive outlook and manage daily stressors. Here's a quick tool that can help you do that.

Action 4: Eat Your Heart Out

When making out your grocery list, follow this simple rule of thumb: opt for foods with healthful fats, fiber, and good-for-you nutrients like flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals. And nix the salty, sugary, sat-fat-laden, or processed stuff. Here are six foods you should feed your heart regularly.

Action 5: Learn from Your Relatives

Even though you have a lot of control over your own heart-healthy destiny, a family history of heart disease does raise your risk significantly. So, along with talking to your doctor about a schedule of heart screenings, talk about your family health history, too. And if Mom, Dad, or a sibling developed heart disease, you'll want to be extra vigilant about screenings and about adopting heart-smart habits.

Action 6: Pop Some Pills

Certain nutrients, supplements, and occasional medications can work preventive wonders for your heart. Here are the YOU Docs' top picks:
  • Aspirin: Taking aspirin regularly may reduce the incidence of heart attack by making blood platelets less sticky and decreasing arterial inflammation. But it only makes sense for men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 40. And even then, check with your doctor first, because aspirin can have side effects like stomach irritation and bleeding. Here's more on the benefits.
  • A multivitamin: Your multivitamin is chock-full of heart-healthy micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D. Look up the RealAge recommended amounts with this online tool.
  • Folate: This B vitamin lowers homocysteine to healthy levels. Since folate from food is only partially absorbed by your body, take a 400-microgram (folic acid) supplement. But make sure you're getting enough B6 and B12, too, because folate can mask a deficiency in these vitamins.

Action 7: Schedule Sleep

If you don't snooze 6 to 8 hours a night, you increase arterial aging and raise your risk of a heart attack. Inadequate sleep will also cause you to release less serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in your brain. The result: You may seek out other, less healthful ways to feel good, like noshing on sugary foods or tipping too many martinis. Try this Deep Sleep plan to get your ZZZs.
Think you know how your heart really works? Get a better idea here.
Here are 12 more lifestyle changes that may help prevent a heart attack

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