5 Surprising Ways to Love Your Heart
Heart disease is still the number one killer of both men and women. The good news: It can often be prevented. While keeping your heart healthy is serious business, it can also be fun. In honor of American Heart Month, we’ve put together five surprisingly enjoyable ways for you to show your heart some extra love.
As if you needed more reason to book those plane tickets: Taking time off can cut your heart attack odds by almost one-third. Researchers suspect that vacation-takers may have better heart health because time off helps reduce stress -- one of the biggest contributors to heart disease. And vacation time provides opportunities to do other good-for-your-health things, like reconnecting with family and friends, getting outdoors and pursuing fun hobbies.
Go ahead – rip open that dark chocolate candy bar, or treat yourself to a luscious chocolate-covered strawberry. Turns out chocolate doesn’t just tickle your taste buds; studies show small amounts of dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure, increase blood vessel health and improve your good cholesterol. The magic ingredient: flavonoids, antioxidants believed to be the active ingredient that gives chocolate its heart-healthy benefits. Just remember, a standard chocolate bar is between 200 and 300 calories – so indulge in moderation.
The next time you feel guilty about spending extra time in bed, just remember you’re doing your heart a favor. As little as one extra hour of sleep can lower your risk of developing calcium deposits in your arteries, a precursor of heart disease. Sleep also protects you from too much exposure to the stress hormone cortisol, which causes high blood pressure.
We’re not saying you should lie out in the sun until you look like a lobster. But 10 to 15 minutes of exposure a day can help protect your ticker. That’s because sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, which some studies suggest may help your heart by preventing or treating high blood pressure and warding off the buildup of plaque in the arteries. It doesn’t take much sun, though, so be careful of overexposure.
Raise a toast to your heart! Research shows moderate drinking – that’s no more than one drink a day for women; two for men -- may help lower your risk of heart disease by as much as 40%. That’s because the ethanol in alcohol helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol and prevent blood clots.