Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a significant public health concern in the US. According to the CDC, heart disease (a type of CVD) is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths.
While most doctors are quick to prescribe medications, and they are often necessary, there are many natural ways you can improve your heart health if you have the proper knowledge and discipline. People commonly experience side effects from drugs (such as statins) and eventually stop taking them, making it all the more important to know how to improve your heart health naturally.
Maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system is essential for lifespan and quality of life. By incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, such as a balanced diet, regular physical activity, stress management, quitting smoking, and regular checkups with a doctor, you can significantly improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. In addition, you'll be more active, have better endurance, more energy, and be more productive.
The three aspects of heart health to control are cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. Below are nine ways to improve and maintain a healthy heart and vascular system.
1. Change Your Diet
A healthy diet is the most critical factor in maintaining a healthy heart. Doctors recommend several specific diets for heart health, including the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the TLC diet. These diets have been clinically proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, thereby improving heart and vascular health. To simplify the diet recommendations, they all feature a lower consumption of certain foods and a higher consumption of other foods, as listed below.
- saturated fats
- cholesterol-rich foods
- processed foods
- healthy fats and oils (olive oil, avocado oil)
- soluble fibers from fruits and vegetables
- plant phytochemicals like flavonoids and polyphenols in berries
- whole grains
- lean protein
2. Exercise Sufficiently and Properly
Regular physical activity is critical for a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Exercise improves cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscle, improving circulation, and reducing blood pressure. Aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises are all important, but activity that improves heart rate variability (HRV) is particularly important. HRV is your heart's ability to speed up and slow down in reaction to the body's oxygen needs. The better your HRV, the healthier your heart.
Here's how exercise supports cardiovascular health:
- Strengthening the heart muscle: Regular physical activity can help strengthen the heart muscle, making it more effective at pumping blood and delivering oxygen to the body's tissues, lowering your risk of heart disease and improving overall heart health.
- Lowering blood pressure: Exercise can help lower blood pressure, a considerable risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help reduce the tension in blood vessels and improve blood flow, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Improving cholesterol levels: Exercise can improve cholesterol levels by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels and reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
- Controlling weight: Regular physical activity can help control weight too, which is vital for heart health as excess weight can increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
- Reducing stress: Exercise can reduce stress and improve mental health, positively impacting heart health. Stress may increase the risk of heart disease by triggering the release of stress hormones (like cortisol) that can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Find a physical activity that is enjoyable and sustainable to ensure that it gets consistently incorporated into your routine. I recommended my patients aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with resistance (muscle-strengthening) activities on at least two days per week.
3. Manage Your Weight
Weight management is beneficial to heart health in several ways. Excess weight, especially abdominal fat, can increase the risk of heart disease by putting extra strain on the heart and blood vessels.
Maintaining a healthy weight can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and improve insulin sensitivity, all risk factors for heart disease. Additionally, weight loss can help reduce inflammation, another risk factor for heart disease.
Physical activity, such as exercise, can help with weight management and improve heart health by increasing metabolism, burning calories, and building muscle. A diet low in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, processed foods, high-in-fiber fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can also support weight management and heart health.
Aim for gradual, sustainable weight loss through a healthy diet and physical activity. Rapid weight loss, primarily through crash diets, can stress the heart and potentially increase the risk of heart disease.
4. Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress management is critical to heart health. Acute stress can cause short-term physiological changes in the body. Under normal circumstances, this is not harmful. However, if you already suffer from an underlying condition, such as hypertension, repeated short bursts of acute stress can be harmful to your health.
When you are under chronic stress, you are more likely to engage in unhealthy habits and behaviors. These habits and behaviors can lead to a whole host of cardiovascular issues, including hypertension and high cholesterol. To learn more about the relationship between stress and high blood pressure, check out Can Stress Cause High Blood Pressure?
Stress can affect the heart and cardiovascular system in the following ways:
- Raising blood pressure: Acute stress can lead to higher levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, causing an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. If you already have high blood pressure, these increases can lead to cardiovascular issues. (American Heart Association. (2021). Stress and Heart Health.)
- Triggering the release of harmful chemicals: Acute stress can trigger the release of harmful chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can increase the risk of heart disease if you already have underlying hypertension by damaging blood vessels and contributing to plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Weakening the immune system: Chronic stress can lead to behaviors that can weaken your immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infections and inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease.
- Impairing the ability of blood vessels to dilate: Acute stress can impair the ability of blood vessels to dilate, reducing blood flow to the heart. This can increase the risk of heart disease if you already have an underlying condition, like high blood pressure.
- Contributing to unhealthy lifestyle habits: Chronic stress can contribute to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as overeating, smoking, and drinking alcohol, which can all increase the risk of heart disease.
Find ways to manage stress healthfully. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, exercise, and counseling can effectively manage stress. (National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Stress.) To learn more about ways to manage stress, read Can Stress Cause High Blood Pressure?
5. Quit Smoking
If you smoke, quitting is the single best thing you can do to preserve your heart and cardiovascular system. Smoking can damage heart and vascular health in many ways:
- Raising blood pressure: Smoking can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, which can strain the heart and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- Damaging blood vessels: The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the inner lining of blood vessels, making them more likely to become narrow and clogged, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. (American Heart Association. (2021). How Smoking Affects Your Heart and Blood Vessels.)
- Increasing the risk of blood clots: Smoking can increase the risk of blood clots by making the blood more sticky and increasing the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease.)
- Decreasing oxygen levels in the blood: Smoking can reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood, which can strain the heart and increase the risk of heart disease.
- Increasing the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries: The chemicals in tobacco smoke can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
It is never too late to quit smoking to improve heart and vascular health. Quitting smoking can have immediate and long-term benefits for heart health and other aspects of your health.
6. Take the Correct Supplements
Boosting your diet with heart-healthy supplements can be effective. Several supplements have been shown to support heart health:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and improve cardiovascular health. I recommend a 250-500mg dose of EPA and DHA daily.
- Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that can help protect the heart from damage. I recommend a dose of 30-200mg per day.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D can improve heart health by reducing inflammation and helping regulate blood pressure. I recommend a dose of 1000-4000 IU per day.
- Magnesium: Magnesium helps regulate heart rhythm, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. I recommend my patients take 400-1000mg per day.
- Folic acid: Folic acid can help reduce homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. I recommend a dose of 400-800mcg daily of methyl folate (not folic acid).
- Vitamin K2: Vitamin K2 helps maintain cardiovascular health by directing calcium to the bones, where it's needed, and away from the arteries, where it can contribute to plaque buildup and increase the risk of heart disease. It also helps regulate the formation of blood clots, which can prevent blood clots and stroke. I recommend 100 mcg per day.
- Soluble Fiber: Soluble fiber can help lower LDL (the bad) blood cholesterol levels. It also confers other benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and inflammation.
The Best Heart Health Supplement on the Market
If you're looking for the best heart health supplement on the market that includes all these nutrients in one serving, without pills, in an ultra-absorption gel pack, then explore Healthycell Heart & Vascular Health. Expertly formulated by physicians and nutritionists, Heart & Vascular Health is a blend of plant extracts, vitamins, and minerals that help maintain normal cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels.† Delivered in a patented gel you swallow called MICROGEL™, it ensures maximum absorption of premium nutrients, including CoQ10, Trans-resveratrol, Soluble Fiber, Vitamin K2, Omega-3, and Grape Seed Extract to help you maintain a healthy heart and circulatory system.† It tastes great and is easy and convenient to take – shoot it straight out of the gel pack or mix it in water.
It's important to talk to your healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen, as it may interact with medications and can cause side effects in some people.
7. Sleep Well
Chronically sleep-deprived people have a higher risk of elevated blood pressure and heart attack, among many other health conditions. I recommend at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night. For additional tips on how to sleep better, see my article: How to Sleep Better: 12 Pro Tips for Better Sleep Tonight.
8. Practice Great Oral Hygiene
Most people don't know oral hygiene can impact heart and vascular health. Conditions such as gingivitis and periodontal disease can cause bacteria to enter your bloodstream, which may lead to plaque buildup. Some doctors believe this dynamic is why heart disease and poor oral hygiene are linked. But you can easily avoid these issues by flossing, brushing correctly, and visiting the dentist regularly. Spend the money on the right equipment to maintain the best oral hygiene. I recommend the Oral B Pro Toothbrush, and Dental Floss Sticks to make flossing easier.
9. Monitor Yourself
Monitoring yourself is the only way to catch heart and vascular issues early so you can immediately intervene and avoid more severe problems later. It's easy to do. Simply visit the doctor regularly, once every six months. For blood pressure, you can even get a home blood pressure cuff and take your own measurements daily. I recommend the OMRON Blood Pressure Monitor, Upper Arm Cuff. If you do this, record them in a log to track them over time. If you notice abnormal results, see a doctor. However, keep in mind that small blood pressure changes throughout the day are normal. To learn more about normal versus abnormal fluctuations in blood pressure, read Is Blood Pressure Higher In The Morning?
In conclusion, maintaining a healthy heart and cardiovascular system is essential for both lifespan and quality of life. Although medications are sometimes necessary, incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, such as a balanced diet, regular physical activity, stress management, quitting smoking, and regular checkups with a doctor, can significantly improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of CVD for a better life.