Making small changes in your habits can make a real difference to your ticker.
“It’s like finding the fountain of youth,” says Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “People who follow these steps not only live longer, but they also spend a lot more time healthy, without cardiovascular disease.”
Even better? You don’t have to work on all 10 steps at once. Even if you improve just one or two of these areas, you can make yourself less likely to get heart disease. Of course, the more tips on this list you follow, the better. So let’s get started.
1. Aim for lucky number seven.
The next time you’re tempted to stay up later than you should, remember how comfy that pillow will feel — and how good a full night’s sleep is for your heart.
In one study, young and middle-age adults who slept 7 hours a night had less calcium in their arteries (an early sign of heart disease) than those who slept 5 hours or less or those who slept 9 hours or more.
The type of shut-eye they got was important, too. Adults who said they got good-quality sleep also had healthier arteries than those who didn’t sleep soundly.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, or if you don’t feel refreshed after a full night in bed, talk to your doctor about how healthier sleep habits might improve your slumber.
2. Keep the pressure off.
That cuff squeezing your arm at every doctor’s visit is important. It measures the amount of pressure flowing through your arteries with every heartbeat.
If your blood pressure gets too high, the extra force can damage artery walls and create scar tissue. That makes it harder for blood and oxygen to get to and from the heart. The heart has to pump harder and gets worn out faster. If it can’t get enough oxygen, parts can start to die.
Get your blood pressure checked every 3-5 years if you’re 18-39. If you’re 40 or older, or if you have high blood pressure, check it every year.
Cut back on salt, limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks a day, favor healthy eating habits (think fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein) manage your stress, and work out. These changes are often enough to bring your blood pressure back down into the normal range. If not, your doctor might recommend you also take medication.