Your heart is your body’s powerhouse, and keeping it healthy is vital for your longevity. The good news is, it only takes a few minutes a day to feed and exercise it to keep it fighting fit.
Making a few small changes to your daily routine could make a huge difference to your heart health. Experts predict that 80 percent of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if we spent more time looking after our hearts. “It’s never too late,” says cardiologist Dr. Ali Khavandi, a consultant at BMI Bath Clinic in Somerset and founder of Cardiologist’s Kitchen.
“Your risk of heart disease responds quickly to lifestyle changes and whatever your age, you can see improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol within a few weeks with just a few simple daily tweaks.”
Your heart is the center of your cardiovascular system and it’s responsible for just about everything that gives you life — from transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell to keeping your immune system firing. It’s easy to take it for granted as many of the problems that affect it, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, often don’t have visible symptoms. And while there is a genetic link in heart disease, studies show it’s lifestyle rather than family history that has the biggest impact.
Your Take-Five Challenge
A healthy diet leads to a healthy heart, but don’t get bogged down thinking about which foods you should be eating less of and focus on the heart-healthy foods you should be including instead. “A diverse and varied diet is best for your heart, so try to eat as wide a range of fresh foods as possible,” says Dr. Khavandi. “These five foods have been found by study after study to have lots of positive benefits for your cardiovascular health. You don’t need to eat all of them every day, but try to include them several times a week.”
A cardiovascular superstar; in fact a recent US study found that the more unrefined nuts such as walnuts or almonds you eat, the healthier your heart will be. Walnuts are especially good, helping to reduce your risk of heart disease by 21 percent according to the research. Try a palmful every day on yogurt, scattered over salads, or as a snack.
All whole fruit (not smoothies and juices, which can be high in sugar) is great for your heart. But if you want a really heart-friendly hit, eating three three-ounce servings of berries such as blueberries or strawberries a week could reduce your risk of heart disease by 32 percent according to UK researchers. Their benefits come from antioxidant flavonoids which help to fight inflammation in your heart and blood vessels.
Beans and lentils are packed full of fiber and just one serving a day has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad one) by five percent. A serving is three ounces or three heaped tablespoons.
This one might seem obvious but it’s really important. Pile your plate with colorful seasonal vegetables and make sure you eat plenty of leafy greens and brassicas such as kale, broccoli, and cabbage. Greens are packed with Vitamin K, which studies show helps keep your heart pumping healthily.
Oily Fish and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
A heart-healthy diet is not necessarily a low-fat diet and eating plenty of unsaturated fats from oily fish and olive oil could actually help to reduce your risk of heart disease by a fifth and help to lower your cholesterol levels, according to US researchers.
Walk Your Heart Fit
Your heart is like any other muscle, it needs to be worked to stay in good shape. “Regular exercise helps keep your heart fit,” says Dr. Khavandi. “It’s the most effective way to help with breathlessness, stress, tiredness, and fatigue. It also helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, keeps your weight in check, lowers your risk of Type 2 diabetes, and makes you less likely to experience heart rhythm disturbances.”
Current guidelines advise 30 minutes of exercise a day, but when it comes to a healthy heart, squeezing a 10 to 15 minute walk into your day could make a significant difference. One study found a short burst of activity every day could improve cardiovascular fitness by 4.2 percent, which would make a big difference to how out-of-puff you feel climbing stairs.
Get Out of Your Chair
Just getting up out of your chair for a couple of minutes every hour could help to protect your heart and even reduce your risk of a heart attack. One US study found that prolonged sitting encourages the release of proteins that are associated with damaged heart cells. You can fight back by setting an alarm and getting active for two minutes every hour. Try walking up and down the stairs, dancing to your favorite song, or doing some stretches while your coffee is brewing.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Yours.