It's no secret; taking care of your heart is important. Medical research knows a lot about what makes the heart so unique, but our personal connection to our own hearts makes it even more extraordinary. Science tells us it delivers oxygenated blood to our bodies; experience tells us how special it was to hear our own heartbeat for the first time as a kid at the doctor's office. Our hearts are worth taking care of.
But with all that we know, heart disease still takes a life every 40 seconds,1 accounting for more than 600,000 Americans each year.2 In fact, it may surprise you that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women.2 It's also a leading cause of disability in the U.S. and has a substantial financial impact as we spend nearly $110 billion on health care and lost productivity3. That's money, time and resources we could enjoy more with family and friends.
Luckily, diet and lifestyle work together to help reduce the risk of heart disease.5
Did you know that high blood pressure, high LDL-cholesterol and smoking are the top three risk factors for developing heart disease?2,4 Managing these risks is an essential step to maintaining a healthy heart. Yet almost half of American adults over the age of 20 (49.7%) have at least one of these risk factors.4 For instance, many of us are unaware of our blood pressure or cholesterol numbers and are unfamiliar about how our lifestyle affects them.
That's because, in addition to the three major risk factors, lifestyle plays a role in keeping your heart healthy. You may be at higher risk for heart disease if you eat a poor-quality diet, are inactive or over-consume alcohol.
The good news is that positive changes in lifestyle can happen at any age. Even small changes can help improve overall quality of life and health care costs.5
What we've learned is that a major contributor to almost all of the risk factors starts with your diet. And when you take your diet into account, you learn something else you may not know about heart health: What you eat makes your mouth and your stomach happy, but it's your heart that will thank you.
Eating a diet that contains plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and good-quality fats is a great way to show your heart you care. These foods can also help support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.5
Eating well doesn't mean giving up good taste! Add something new to your weekday menu with tuna, fresh mixed greens, ripe sweet tomatoes and a drizzle of a balsamic olive oil mix. Get mornings off to a great start with a hearty bowl of steel-cut oats made even more tempting — and heart healthy — with fresh walnuts, blueberries and a touch of honey. Grab a quick lunch with a sauté of bright bell peppers, onions and avocado slices wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, complemented by a blend of brown rice and black beans on the side.
Combine good-for-your-heart food choices with physical activity and it will strengthen all your muscles, including your heart (your heart is a muscle!). Want another benefit? Regular activity can put you on the path toward achieving a healthier weight, and this can put less strain on the heart. And the news keeps getting better: Active people are almost 50% less likely to develop heart disease than inactive people.6
Just 30 minutes of activity per day can reduce your risk of heart disease. Take a walk around your neighborhood with a dog, friend or both. Take the stairs at work to get your heart rate up. Practice basic yoga poses to engage body and mind.
When you keep in mind how your heart loves you, you can make positive choices that love it back.