Your heart and circulatory system are kind of like a pump and plumbing pipes. The pump (your heart) pushes water (your blood) through the pipes (your arteries, capillaries, and veins) to get it where it needs to go.
If you have a poorly maintained pump that takes some serious elbow grease to get the water out (high blood pressure), it not only sends water out inefficiently but will also wear out faster (heart failure.) And if you send a lot of bacon fat (“bad” cholesterol) down the drain (your throat), it could build up inside the pipes, clogging them so that the water can’t get through very fast—or at all (heart attack or stroke.)
Now, of course, your heart and vascular system are far more complex than your plumbing, but just as taking care of your pump and pipes will keep your water flowing optimally for the foreseeable future, taking care of your heart will keep it ticking stronger and longer.
In both cases, it’s all about maintaining your equipment. Your pump is just a hunka metal, but even it needs regular working to keep it from getting stiff and rusty. Your heart is a living muscle, and it needs regular strength training to keep it strong and pumping easily. And, of course, what you put down your drain affects the quality of the whole system.
Table of Content
- Best exercises to strengthen your heart?
- Avoid smoking and tobacco, and limit alcohol
- Best foods to strengthen your heart
- Sleep well to help strengthen your heart
Best exercises to strengthen your heart
Exercise tops the list of the best ways to strengthen your heart. This should come as no surprise, given that exercise has wide-ranging health benefits, but it’s difficult to overstate how important it is to heart health. The CDC calls heart disease the top risk of insufficient exercise, noting that a lack of physical activity can lead to heart disease even in people who have no other risk factors.
A natural question is which exercises are best when it comes to a stronger heart, and the simplest answer is just about all of them. Because every person is different, with their own fitness levels and other factors, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Happily, it doesn’t take much physical exertion to have benefits, with researchers finding that just 60 seconds of exercise was enough to offset 14 minutes of sitting.
That’s right: Even if work, school, or other circumstances require you to sit at a desk for six hours a day, 25 minutes of exercise is enough to have you on the right track to a stronger and healthier heart. Here’s a quick look at different types of exercises to consider.
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is any physical activity that increases the heart rate and your body’s use of oxygen. For most of us, much simpler activities qualify.
For example, a brisk walk can often get your heart rate up, and is a great place to start. Yoga is another exercise that might not seem like it, but often can have aerobic benefits. Already feel like you’re in great cardiovascular shape? You might consider cycling or swimming to give your heart the push it needs.
Here, too, there can be misconceptions about what strength training is, with notions of heavily muscled people lifting heavy weights in a gym setting quickly coming to mind. Strength training really just refers to activities that focus on the strength and endurance of your muscles, and you don’t need any equipment at all to do them.
Pushups are a strength training exercise, and a good one since they use your own body weight to provide the resistance. While you’re making your upper body stronger, you’re also making your heart stronger at the same time, as it sends the extra blood and oxygen needed to complete each repetition.
Balance, flexibility, and stretching
Exercises that concentrate on balance and flexibility are great for your general well-being, but can they help strengthen your heart too? Yes, though it’s best if they incorporate some dynamic movements over static stretching (where you are essentially stretching in place).
The most current popular form of exercise in this category is the aforementioned yoga, which is great since it provides ways for people of all fitness levels to get started. Activities like pilates and tai chi are included in here as well and get your body moving and your heart rate up even more.
Avoid smoking and tobacco, and limit alcohol
Considering that tobacco products, and particularly cigarettes, are linked to a long list of health problems, it should come as no shock that doctors say you should avoid them altogether in order to assure a stronger and healthier heart. Studies have shown time after time that smoking increases your chances of developing coronary heart disease, not only in the overall population but also within demographic groups where the risk of death from coronary heart disease is higher.
According to the FDA, the mix of chemicals within cigarette smoke is especially harmful, capable of damaging not only the heart itself but also the rest of the circulatory system and the lungs. Even secondhand smoke can raise the possibility of heart problems and strokes, which is why almost all businesses and public spaces have banned smoking over the last few decades.
Quitting smoking now can dramatically reduce your risk for stroke, heart attack, cancer, and other chronic conditions—even if you’ve been smoking for many years.
Excessive consumption of alcohol carries many of the same dangers when it comes to heart health. There is a particularly strong correlation between alcohol use and high blood pressure, which makes your heart work harder than it should, and long term studies have found it may contribute to cardiomyopathy, which is a weakening of the heart walls. Health professionals suggest that a heart-safe alcohol limit is one alcoholic beverage per day for women and two for men. People who have existing heart issues should drink even less than that.
Best foods to strengthen your heart
The phrase “you are what you eat” isn’t quite based in fact, but it is true that a healthy diet is an excellent tool for ensuring a stronger heart. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process either, as there are some general guidelines you can put into practice right away. Cutting down on saturated fats (found in red meats and full-fat dairy products), reducing your sodium and processed sugar intake, and increasing the amount of fiber you eat are great places to start.
Controlling portion sizes can also help when crafting a heart-healthy meal plan. As with alcohol use, moderation is a key element of eating with your heart in mind, and simply eating less of foods that aren’t as beneficial is an easy first step.
On top of those principles, there are foods that are simply better for your health than others. Here’s a quick rundown of foods to increase or add to your diet to help strengthen your heart.
Eat More Blueberries
Blueberries have been shown to lower the chances of suffering a heart attack, making them a prime addition to any meal plan. Strawberries also have some of the same benefits, albeit at slightly lower levels.
Eat More Salmon
Salmon is a fantastic replacement for red meats, as it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. These “good fats” can decrease the chances for developing a heart arrhythmia and reduce plaque build-up in the arteries, which are both great outcomes. Try to eat at least two servings of salmon or other fatty fish each week.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
This is a more general guideline, but it works because different fruits and vegetables have their own benefits. For instance, grapefruit has been linked to lower incidence of stroke and is high in vitamin C, while tomatoes are a rich source of potassium, which is great for heart health. It’s hard to go wrong here.
Eat Healthy Fats and Lean Protein
As noted above, salmon and other fish are the stars here, but there are other, more surprising ways to get healthy fats into your diet. Avocados are one, and these delicious fruits have surged in popularity in recent years. Certain nuts also contain healthy fats and can make for a great, heart-healthy snack.
Certain cuisines have proven to be better for heart strength than others, and a Mediterranean diet is one that studies have shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease. That’s because it’s high in grains, vegetables, and fruits, plus it relies almost entirely on olive oil, which contains unsaturated fats and has been connected with lower risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Sleep well to help strengthen your heart
Along with exercise and eating right, proper sleep shouldn’t be overlooked as a way to help you toward a stronger heart. The CDC reminds us that “sleep is not a luxury,” as it is critical to the body’s natural restorative process.
That includes heart health. Not only does regular sleep of at least seven hours a day help lower blood pressure, studies have found that sleep issues like sleep apnea and insomnia can increase the likelihood of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
Like exercise, the question of “the right sleep” can vary from person to person, but there are general principles that can guide you to your own answer. Setting and sticking to a regular bedtime, avoiding too much artificial light before bedtime, avoiding alcohol and fatty foods in the last few hours before you sleep, and keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool are all excellent practices to get the sleep that will benefit your heart strength.
How Forward helps you strengthen your heart
Assuring that you have a strong heart is one of the most important facets of your overall health, and one we take very seriously at Forward. The healthy heart program is a 12-week, doctor-led initiative that includes comprehensive blood testing and diet and exercise optimization, which are key to putting the most information about your heart strength in your own hands. Learn more to see if becoming a member is right for you.