Taking care of your heart isn't something that you do every now and then. A truly healthy heart requires a consistent effort.
And there’s no better time to start than this February during American Heart Month. So in honor of this heart-healthy time, let’s take a look at some important cardiovascular tips to get your ticker on the right track.
Eat a Diet for Heart Health
You are what you eat. Or in this case, your heart is what you eat. Adhere to a poor-quality diet filled with ultra-processed foods, drive-through fare, and sugar-sweetened beverages and you’re setting yourself up for a slew of cardiovascular problems, including potentially deadly coronary heart and cerebrovascular diseases.1 On the other hand, sticking to a diet filled with plenty of colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, seafood, and lean cuts of meat or poultry, and your chances of cardiovascular problems will be greatly reduced.2
One thing to watch out for? Plant-based meat alternatives. Even though they are created from plants and filled with the best of intentions, they are typically heavily processed and can contain high amounts of added sugar, saturated fat, salt, stabilizers, and preservatives.3
Get Your Heart Pumping
If you’re not getting your heart rate up with regular physical activity, then you’re missing out on a world of powerful cardiovascular benefits. Not only does physical activity directly contribute to a healthy heart, but it also has an impact on other cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, including body weight, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, lipid and glucose metabolism, and endothelial function.4 But these cardio-protective effects don’t happen overnight; they can take several weeks or more to develop.5
According to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and at least two strength training sessions each week. Though that may sound like a lot to squeeze into a busy schedule, it works out to about only 20 minutes a day. And think of it this way: Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving, which can mean dancing, hiking, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. And if you break it down into smaller “exercise snacks” of 5 to 10 minutes each, you may find that you have the time to work out after all.
Keep Alcohol Consumption to a Minimum
Although a drink with dinner every now and then may provide a little health boost, everyday drinking—especially binge drinking—is not doing your heart any favors. In fact, high doses of alcohol can have serious effects, both acute and chronic. In the short-term, alcohol can cause a spike in arterial blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia, even in people with normal heart function. And over the long-term, chronic high doses of alcohol can lead to progressive cardiovascular dysfunction and structural damage that is associated with the development of hypertension, coronary and peripheral atherosclerosis, changes in your cholesterol profile, an increased chance of heart failure, and all forms of stroke.6
On the days that alcohol is consumed, men should keep it to two drinks, and women to one. A single drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.
The negative effects of smoking have been well documented. It increases mortality from all causes and plays a big role in the development of atherosclerosis—a narrowing of the arteries caused by the buildup of plaque in arterial walls. Smoking is so destructive that active smoking, and even exposure to secondhand smoke, account for more than 30 percent of coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths. This is especially true for women. Research shows that women have a 25 percent greater risk of developing CHD than men with the same exposure to tobacco smoke.7
Think you can cheat the odds by vaping with e-cigarettes? Despite being advertised as a “healthy” alternative to cigarettes, these claims aren’t based on any scientific evidence. Instead, data consistently shows that vaping causes health effects both similar to and different from those of cigarette smoking.8
But the good news is once you quit, your heart health will improve almost instantly. In one observational cohort study of 8,770 participants published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, former heavy smokers’ risk of cardiovascular disease was significantly lower within just five years of quitting.9 And the longer you abstain, the more your risk decreases.10
Support Your Heart with Aged Garlic Extract
Not to be overlooked is a targeted cardiovascular supplement. Taking Aged Garlic Extract (AGE) daily can give your heart a big boost. One meta-analysis involving 12 trials of 553 hypertensive participants showed that AGE supplements lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as standard anti-hypertensive medications and reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by up to 40 percent. The research also found that AGE can significantly lower central blood pressure, pulse pressure, pulse wave velocity, and arterial stiffness after three months of supplementation.11 Another investigation showed that patients with arteriolosclerosis and coronary artery disease experienced tissue regeneration and improve microcirculation after supplementing with AGE for 12 months.12
Caring for your heart takes time. But incorporating these cardiovascular health tips now can ensure better heart health in the years to come.
- Srour B. Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé). BMJ. 2019;365:l1451.
- Lichtenstein AH. 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health: A scientific statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2021;144(23).
- Gehring J. Consumption of ultra-processed foods by pesco-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans: associations with duration and age at diet initiation. The Journal of Nutrition. 2021;151(1):120–31.
- Wu NN. Physical exercise and selective autophagy: benefit and risk on cardiovascular health. Cells. 2019; 8(11):1436.
- Thijssen DHJ. Short-term exercise-induced protection of cardiovascular function and health: why and how fast does the heart benefit from exercise? Journal of Physiology. 2022;600:1339–55.
- Fernández-Solà J. Cardiovascular risks and benefits of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption. Nature Reviews. Cardiology. 2015;12(10):576–87.
- Gallucci G. Cardiovascular risk of smoking and benefits of smoking cessation. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2020;12(7):3866–76.
- Tsai M. Effects of e-cigarettes and vaping devices on cardiac and pulmonary physiology. Journal of Physiology. 2020;598: 5039–62.
- Duncan MS. Association of smoking cessation with subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease. JAMA. 2019;322(7):642–50.
- Aune D. Tobacco smoking and the risk of heart failure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2019;26(3):279–88.
- Ried K. Garlic lowers blood pressure in hypertensive subjects, improves arterial stiffness and gut microbiota: A review and meta-analysis. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. 2020;19(2)1472–8.
- Lindstedt S. Successful improved peripheral tissue perfusion was seen in patients with atherosclerosis after 12 months of treatment with aged garlic extract. International Wound Journal. 2021;18:681–91.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.