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12 Tips for Better Heart Health

Diet, sleep, fitness, and more -- how to strengthen and protect your heart right now

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You may want to give pistachios a try as well. A recent study shows that a serving or two of pistachios each day may help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, as long as you are mindful of calories. One cup of pistachio nuts has about 700 calories!

Other nuts, such as peanuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds are a rich source of plant sterols, which block cholesterol absorption in the intestines. Studies have shown that eating foods enriched with plant sterols lowers LDL cholesterol. Eating 2-3 grams a day lowers LDL cholesterol by 6-15%, without affecting HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Sterols are found in all plant foods, but the highest concentrations are found in unrefined oils, such as vegetable, nut, and olive oil. Some foods have also been fortified with plant sterols, including milk, yogurt, juices, and spreads.

4.De-stress your heart.

Unplug yourself from the news cycle and your email. It’s good for you and your ticker. And that begins with your PDA. “Start turning it off for 15 minutes at a time and work up to an hour a day to reduce stress,” Goldberg says. “Stress raises blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” she says. “These days, people are less and less capable of leaving stress at the office because everyone is connected 24/7.”

Consider swapping your BlackBerry for another handheld gadget -- your iPod. “Put some relaxing music on your iPod, close your office door for 10 minutes, and listen and breathe.”

5. Get heart healthy social support.

You know exercise improves heart health by keeping weight down and raising levels of HDL cholesterol, but doing it with a friend adds benefits.

“Finding an exercise buddy is really important because social support lowers your risk of heart disease and helps you stay motivated,” Mosca says. Build up to 60 minutes of exercise a day, but even 20 minutes is better than nothing.

In fact, being married and having a strong social network may help protect against heart disease, according to a study of nearly 15,000 men and women. It turns out that people who have a spouse, go to church, join social clubs, and have a lot of friends and relatives have significantly lower blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors than loners.

6. Volunteer to fight heart disease.

People who volunteer tend to live longer than people who don’t. It’s that simple, Mosca says. “We think this is because volunteering reduces isolation and increases social connectivity.” Find a charity that means something to you and donate your time now.

7. Take a heart-felt approach to quitting smoking.

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, but kicking this nasty habit can be much easier said than done. “If you smoke, talk to your doctor about some of the new therapies that are available,” Goldberg says.

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