Now is the perfect time to start making heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Find out how American Heart Association addresses heart health with the Life’s Essential 8™.

1. Eat Better

Eating foods low in fat, cholesterol, and salt – and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, can help protect your heart.

2. Be More Active

Adults should get ½ hours of vigorous physical exercise each week. This can reduce your risk of fatal disease by helping you to control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol, and mitigating the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Exercise also helps you look and feel great – not a bad side effect.

This doesn’t mean you have to become a marathon runner overnight. Physical activities such as gardening, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking the dog all count toward heart-healthy living.

3. Quit Tobacco

Use of inhaled nicotine is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. This includes delivery products such as traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping. Tobacco use is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to a narrowing of the arteries that can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

Nicotine narrows your blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder. Meanwhile, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, also forcing your heart to work overtime and increasing your blood pressure.

Even the occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke increases your risk. But don’t think it’s too late to undo years of damage.

4. Get Healthy Sleep

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep improves brain function, reduces risks for chronic diseases and promotes healing.

5. Manage Weight

A healthy weight is pivotal to maintaining a healthy life. The best measure is your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Excess weight can lead to conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes that increase your chances of heart disease. Some tips for success to manage your weight include portion control, physical activity and eating heart healthy foods.

6. Control Cholesterol

Cholesterol, a waxy substance in the bloodstream and in the cells of our body, isn’t all bad. In fact, “good” cholesterol (HDL) plays an important role in keeping you healthy by clearing “bad” cholesterol (non-HDL or LDL) from your arteries, thereby decreasing your risk of heart disease. How can you increase the good and decrease the bad? Exercise regularly and limit saturated fat and cholesterol is a good start.

Avoid too many animal products such as red meats and full-fat dairy. Limiting trans fats and substituting them with healthier fats such as certain vegetable oils can also help.

While simple diet and exercise changes are enough for many people, others may find benefit from a prescription for cholesterol-lowering medications. 

7. Manage Blood Sugar

Our body converts food into glucose (or blood sugar) that is used as energy. However, high levels of blood sugar can cause damage overtime to your heart, eyes, nerves and kidneys. Talk with your doctor about measuring your A1c level. Maintaining a balanced way of eating and staying active can help blood glucose to stay in the recommended range and minimize risk of complications like heart disease.

8. Manage Blood Pressure

Known ominously as “the silent killer,” high blood pressure has no symptoms. Diet and exercise are essential to keeping your blood pressure low. Other important factors include staying away from cigarettes, limiting salt and alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight.