The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on past behaviors and identify where you need to improve. One of the best ways to promote your overall well-being is to nurture your heart’s health. Here are six key measures to ensure you’re doing right by yours in the coming year:
1. Know your numbers
Your cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index are indicators of your health and help to predict your future risk for cardiovascular disease. Do you know where you stand?
Optimal blood pressure: less than 140/90 mm Hg (or less than 130/80 mm Hg, if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease)
Optimal LDL cholesterol: below 100 mg/DL
LDL cholesterol above 160 mg/dL is considered high. LDL is called “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to the formation of plaque, which can clog your arteries, causing heart attacks or stroke.
Optimal Body Mass Index, or BMI: 18.5 to 24.9
A BMI over 25 is considered overweight, while over 30 is considered obese. Both are risk factors for heart disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have an online BMI tool to help you calculate your BMI. Losing just 5 to10 percent of your current weight over 6 months will lower your risk for heart disease, according to the NIH.
2. Understand your risk
Your age, gender, race and heredity all affect your heart’s health. Although you can’t change any of these risk factors, there’s much you can do about others, including what you eat, whether and how often you exercise, whether you smoke and how much, how much you weigh and how you deal with stress.
In addition, the Cleveland HeartLab offers a score of inflammation tests that can give you and your doctor a more complete picture of your risk for future heart events.
3. Get off the couch
There’s little else more important to your heart than getting some exercise, whether it’s casual gardening, a walk in the park or mall, or a structured gym workout. Exercising 30 minutes at least five days a week is recommended. But even if you aren’t yet meeting that goal, increasing your physical activity by even a little can reduce your risk of heart disease.
4. Eat for your heart
Aim for a mostly plant-based diet, featuring plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein (fish and skinless poultry), whole grain breads and cereals, and nuts and seeds. Limit red meat and saturated fats and use salt and sugar sparingly. And favor unsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oils.
5. Get adequate sleep
Skimping on sleep increases your risk for heart disease in several ways. Sleep loss leads to weight gain and increases in inflammatory biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). It’s also associated with hypertension and unhealthy metabolic changes that increase the risk of diabetes, all risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Aim for 6 to 8 hours a night to avoid these consequences.
6. Manage your stress
Chronic stress deals your heart a double whammy: Not only does it promote heart disease in its own right, but it also makes bad cardiovascular health habits like smoking and excessive drinking more likely. Create a tension-soothing routine, including exercise, deep breathing or meditation, instead.
A rich social life also helps your health—and your heart—by providing a buffer against stress’s harmful effects. Plan to spend more time with friends and family who calm you and add joy to your life in 2017 and reap this all-important benefit.