Slash your risk of cardio problems—and possibly lengthen your life—with these simple strategies.
- Take baby steps toward better heart health. Do one new heart-healthy thing each day for a month. At the end, you’ll have 30 new habits. Some ideas: Skip your breakfast pastry and reach for fruit and whole-grain cereal instead. Or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand instead of sitting while you talk on the phone. You get the idea.
- If you snore, see your healthcare provider. Find out if you have obstructive sleep apnea, in which you briefly stop breathing while you sleep. The condition raises your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorders, heart attack, stroke, sudden cardiac death and heart failure. Researchers have found that people with moderate to severe apnea have stiffer arteries and blood vessel problems. If you have the condition, get treated for it and adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- Be still. Heart disease patients who meditated for 20 minutes twice a day were 48% less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die compared to those who attended a health-education class for more than five years, according to a new study published in Circulation. They also lowered their blood pressure and reported less stress and anger. The benefits may extend to healthy people, says Robert Schneider, MD, the lead researcher and director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, IA. Look for a Transcendental Meditation class in your area (tm.org).
- Go low-sodium. Consuming too much sodium can boost your blood pressure, and many foods are packed with a surprisingly high amount. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently named the following foods the “Salty Six”: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry (especially breaded chicken), soup and sandwiches. Check food labels and choose low-sodium varieties of bread, lunch meat and soup. When you make or order pizza, limit the cheese and add more veggies to it; and try half a sandwich with a salad instead of a whole one. Your goal should be to consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily, according to the AHA.
- Take fainting seriously. If you’ve ever fainted, see your healthcare provider. In a new study of nearly 40,000 people published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, those who lost consciousness—even just once—were 74% more likely to be admitted to the hospital for a heart attack or stroke and five times more likely to need a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator. Researchers say fainting may be an early sign of cardiovascular disease, so see your healthcare provider if it happens to you.
- Kick the habit! Even light smokers are at risk of dying from a heart attack. Those who smoked one to 14 cigarettes daily had nearly twice the risk of sudden death compared to those who didn’t light up, according to a new study published in Circulation. The good news? The risk of death drops to that of a nonsmoker 15 to 20 years after kicking the habit.