Heart disease is a major public health concern in the United States. Besides taking medicines a doctor prescribes, a person can take a range of actions to improve their heart health. This includes eating a healthy diet, keeping active, and avoiding behaviors such as smoking.
Keeping blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels in healthy ranges can help.
In this article, we will explain how to improve heart health.
Many of the recommendations for improving heart health focus on diet.
- a variety of vegetables and fruits
- whole grains
- lean proteins, such as seafood and plant proteins from tofu and other sources
- liquid, nontropical oils, such as olive or avocado oil
- minimally processed foods
- no added sugars
- limited salt
- limited alcohol
There are a few specific diets that have these characteristics, including:
The Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables, grains, lean proteins, and the regular consumption of olive oil. It advocates that people eat dairy and red meat infrequently and foods with added sugar rarely.
A 2019 review in
The DASH diet includes more protein from low-fat dairy, meat, and poultry.
Physical activity plays an important supporting role in heart health. It can also help a person maintain a healthy weight, especially in combination with a diet.
Different types and intensities of exercise offer benefits to heart health:
Cardio, or aerobic exercise, is any physical movement intense enough to raise the heart rate and cause sweating.
Moderate-intensity physical activity
Examples of moderate-intensity cardio activities include:
- brisk walking
- water aerobics
- cycling on mostly flat ground
- playing doubles tennis
- mowing a lawn
Examples of vigorous-intensity cardio activities include:
- jogging or running
- swimming lengths of a pool
- cycling fast or on hilly ground
- playing singles tennis
- playing basketball
A person can mix moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity physical activity. Doing this can allow people to spend less time exercising because 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is equivalent to 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.
Aerobic exercise is not the only type of exercise that benefits heart health.
A 2021 systematic review in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine concluded that resistance training combined with aerobic training is more beneficial for people with coronary heart disease than aerobic training alone.
The authors reported that resistance training improves a person’s capacity for exercise and quality of life.
They can train using their own body weight, such as by doing pushups, or using resistance machines or free weights in the gym. A person should aim to work all the major muscle groups, including the:
A study in the
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching to the point of feeling slight tightness or discomfort at least two or three times a week, or daily for best results.
Besides nutrition and exercise, a number of lifestyle changes can also help to improve heart health. The
- quitting smoking
- reducing stress
- limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for males and no more than one drink a day for females
A person should also make sleep a priority because it
Some people take supplements to try to improve their heart health. However, research supporting the use of many popular heart health supplements is mixed. In some cases, there is no strong evidence they work.
Supplements for heart health include:
Co-enzyme Q10 (Co-Q10) supplementation may be beneficial to people with cardiovascular disease.
The authors of a
However, the authors pointed out controversies in the available data and urged future researchers to carry out randomized trials that assess the impact on survival.
Low vitamin D levels have links with some of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and inflammation. For people with a vitamin D deficiency, taking this supplement or getting more from sunlight may be beneficial.
A 2018 review of 81 studies concluded that vitamin D supplementation may have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. However, other studies have found different results.
For example, in a
More research is necessary to confirm that vitamin D supplementation is beneficial for heart health.
Additionally, 18% of people experienced side effects and had to stop taking the supplement.
How soon measures such as diet and exercise work to improve heart health depends on a person’s situation and what their goals are.
For example, a person who quits smoking will start to gain benefits from this in as little as
Lowering cholesterol can be more variable. For people using diet and lifestyle changes alone, doctors may allow up to
Other changes can be harder to predict or measure. If a person would like to track markers of heart health as they change their diet or lifestyle, they may be able to ask a doctor to assist with this.
Heart disease is the
Getting regular exercise and making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking also support heart health.