Your 10-Step Plan for a Healthy Heart
For the Life of Your Heart

Your 10-Step Plan for a Healthy Heart

Keep your ticker beating strong with these heart-smart choices.

1 / 13 For the Life of Your Heart

When it comes to the health of your heart, what you do and what you don't do can truly make a difference. Lifestyle choices -- such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise -- can be far more dangerous than hereditary factors. The good news is you have the power to make your heart both stronger and younger through what you eat, how you exercise, and how you respond to social and environmental stressors.

Here's a step-by-step plan to help you make heart-smart choices and get your ticker in top form.


Ready to boost your heart health? Visit a cardiologist near you.

Pump Your Heart

2 / 13 Pump Your Heart

For optimal health, you need to do enough physical activity to burn between 3,500 and 6,500 calories a week (or roughly 500 to 950 a day). Everyday tasks will put a dent in this, but science shows that you'll also need about 60 minutes a week of stamina training. What’s that? It’s cardiovascular exercise that gets your body moving and your heart rate climbing, and makes you breathe harder. The way to improve heart function is to sweat more. Why? Cardiovascular activity helps lower your blood pressure.


Try These Heart-Pumping Activities

3 / 13 Try These Heart-Pumping Activities

Be gentle on your joints. Haven't exercised in awhile? Try low-impact workouts, such as swimming, cycling, or using an elliptical trainer. Aim for at least three 20-minute sessions a week.
Walk 30 minutes. Or more, every day. To pump up your heart rate, try this.
Build strength. Work your muscles -- including your heart. Here's a simple body-building video routine.
Interval train. Add short bursts of intensity to moderate activities. After warming up, take it to the max for 1 minute, then slow down to recover for 2 minutes. Repeat. This will help rein in your cholesterol and slow your heart rate (a sign of cardio health). Watch this.


Know Your Numbers

4 / 13 Know Your Numbers

The most important numbers to watch are the big three -- cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar -- plus two more: homocysteine and C-reactive protein. Consider these numbers a stock ticker for a heart-healthy ticker. They tell you how you're doing and when you need to do more. When you have them measured, make sure your doctor also tells you your goal levels and what you can do to get there. Getting more active, losing weight, and making smart food choices can help get your numbers in a healthy range.


Get Happy

5 / 13 Get Happy

There are lots of reasons to be happy, including your heart health. Negative emotions, such as anger and hostility, can raise blood pressure. People with depression are four times more likely to have a heart attack. And while we don't understand how emotional stress causes physical stress, we do know there's a powerful connection. To get yourself in a better mind-set, use these strategies to manage daily stress.


Eat Your Heart Out

6 / 13 Eat Your Heart Out

You can seriously slash your risk for heart disease by choosing healthful foods that help keep cholesterol and blood sugar levels in the healthy zone. Take the time to plan your meals, create a heart-healthy grocery list, and cook foods that are good for you and your heart.

Follow this simple rule of thumb: opt for a heart-healthy diet with healthful fats, fiber, and good-for-you nutrients, such as flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals. Nix the salty, sugary, sat-fat-laden, or processed stuff. Here are six foods you should feed your heart regularly.


Learn From Your Relatives

7 / 13 Learn From Your Relatives

Even though you have a lot of control over your own heart-healthy destiny, a family history of heart disease does raise your risk significantly. So, along with talking to your doctor about a schedule of heart screenings, talk about your family health history, too. If Mom, Dad, or a sibling, for example, developed heart disease, be extra vigilant about screenings and adopting heart-smart practices. Keep a health journal to track your health habits, including family medical history, immunizations, and more.


Pop an Aspirin

8 / 13 Pop an Aspirin

Who would have ever thought that one little white pill could have such a powerful effect on the heart? Indeed, evidence shows that -- when taken regularly -- aspirin may reduce the incidence of heart attack or heart disease by making blood platelets less sticky and decreasing arterial inflammation. Remember to check with your doctor first because aspirin can have side effects, such as stomach irritation and bleeding.


Take Your Vitamins

9 / 13 Take Your Vitamins

Certain nutrients and supplements can work preventive wonders for your heart, including:
Multivitamins: Your multivitamin is full of heart-healthy micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium and vitamin D. Get more multivitamin advice.
Folate: This B vitamin lowers homocysteine to healthy levels. Since folate from food is only partially absorbed by your body, take a 400-mcg folic acid supplement. Make sure you're getting enough B6 and B12, too, because folate can mask a deficiency in these.
Niacin: This drug appears to decrease the production of triglycerides in the body, which might be the mechanism that allows the body to decrease LDL levels. (Check with your doctor before taking a large dose.)

Schedule Sleep

10 / 13 Schedule Sleep

Skimping on sleep increases arterial aging and raises your risk of a heart attack. Getting less than 6 to 8 hours a night will also cause you to release less serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in your brain. The result: You risk later indulging in less-than-healthy ways to feel good, such as noshing on sugary foods or tipping too many martinis. Try this Deep Sleep Plan to get your ZZZs.

Also, consider napping. A daytime doze is a stress buster and heart protector. Discover the best way to nap.


Partner with Your Doctor

11 / 13 Partner with Your Doctor

If your doctor has prescribed medication for your cholesterol or high blood pressure, don't leave those pills sitting in the pill bottle. Following your doctor-prescribed treatment plan could literally save your life. Plus, sticking to your treatment plan makes all your other efforts to eat right and exercise pay off big time. Ask your doctor if these cholesterol-lowering medications could be right for you.


Check in and Check Up

12 / 13 Check in and Check Up

Monitoring your own health and seeing your doctor regularly for progress reports is a vitally important step in your stay-healthy heart plan. Call your doctor if you feel overly fatigued, frequently get sick, or experience any symptoms that might indicate medication side effects. And make sure to schedule regular checkups with your doctor as well.


Love Your Heart

13 / 13 Love Your Heart

What's not to love about your heart? It pumps blood to your brain so you can think, to your sex organs so you can make love, and to your muscles so you can move and play. Get to know your lovable, life-giving organ better with this quick heart check.


Get a quick snapshot of how healthy your heart is with this quiz.