6 Easy Ways to Be Heart-Healthy
You already know that eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease.  But there are plenty of other lifestyle choices that can help keep your ticker in top shape. Here are six simple strategies to put into practice.
Floss Your Teeth
Your teeth aren’t near your heart, but there is a link between gum care and a healthy heart. Studies have shown that people who have gum disease also have higher rates of heart disease. Researchers don’t know exactly why, but the same inflammation that causes gum disease could be responsible for heart problems. Keep gum disease in check with daily flossing (before bedtime is ideal), and talk to your doctor about any dental issues you’ve had recently and what it could mean for your overall health. [2, 3]
Consider Getting a Pet
Having a pet, and a dog in particular, has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The reasons aren’t clear, but researchers believe that those frisky canines’ regular walks may play a role. (Pet owners may also have healthier lifestyles to begin with.) Playing with animals is also great for reducing and managing stress. If owning a pet isn’t practical for you, you might want to ask a friend if you could walk his dog from time to time, or consider volunteering at an animal shelter. No matter what the reason, animals are good for your heart in more ways than one. 
Start Your Day With Breakfast
Ever since you were a child, you’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Don’t let that mantra slip by the wayside as you get older -- and busier. Eating breakfast high in fiber has been shown to be helpful in lowering levels of harmful LDL cholesterol.  A morning meal also helps kick-start your metabolism.[5, 6] Aim for a mix of fiber, low-fat protein, and whole grains to start the day. [5, 6]
Look for Fun Ways to Stay Active
A hard workout isn’t the only physical activity that treats your heart well. A study found that middle-aged adults who spent at least a decade doing leisure-time activities that involved physical movement had lower inflammatory markers, which can be a risk factor for heart disease, than those who didn’t.  Gardening is not only a great way to stay active but the bounty can give your heart another boost: Fresh fruits and vegetables are key to a healthy diet, and they almost always taste best when they come from your own garden.  If gardening doesn’t appeal to you, consider riding a bike, taking a dance class, fishing, or paddling a kayak. 
Here’s some health news that’s good to bite into: Eating moderate amounts of chocolate has been linked to a lower risk of heart failure in middle-aged men and women, compared to eating no chocolate at all.  Cocoa consumption may also help reduce blood pressure.  So go ahead and enjoy dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cacao to get the highest amount of antioxidants) on a regular basis. Just remember, a small portion (about 1 ounce) is all you need to get the heart-healthy benefit without consuming too many extra calories. 
Exercise recommendations for your heart are usually all about cardio, cardio, cardio. Getting your heart pumping is vital, but strength training is important, too. One large review found that isometric resistance training lowered blood pressure even more than a walking program.  People who lift weights are also less likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that combine to become a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.  If you’re new to exercise, use your own body weight for resistance as you do basic movements like push-ups (you can do them against a wall while standing up or on the floor), squats, and sit-ups. Gradually incorporate exercises that require light weights or resistance bands, like bicep curls and leg extensions.  Keep in mind that it is best to speak with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.
1. American Heart Association: Nutrition
2. American Academy of Periodontology: Gum Disease and Heart Disease:
3. Preventing Periodontal Disease
4. Glenn N. Levine, Karen Allen, Lynne T. Braun, Hayley E. Christian, Erika Friedmann, Kathryn A. Taubert, Sue Ann Thomas, Deborah L. Wells, and Richard A. Lange.
Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.
Circulation, May 9 2013
5. Cleveland Clinic: Heart Healthy Breakfast
6. Mayo Clinic: Healthy Breakfast
7. Mark Hamer, Severine Sabia, G. David Batty, Martin J. Shipley, Adam G. Tabàk, Archana Singh-Manoux, and Mika Kivimaki.
Physical Activity and Inflammatory Markers Over 10 Years: Follow-Up in Men and Women from the Whitehall II Cohort Study.
8. American Heart Association: Why We Garden
Chocolate Intake and Incidence of Heart Failure: A Population-Based, Prospective Study of Middle-Aged and Elderly Women
10. University of Michigan Integrative Medicine: Dark Chocolate
11. Robert D. Brook et al
Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association
Hypertension. published online April 22, 2013
12. Magyari, Peter M.; Churilla, James R.
Association Between Lifting Weights and Metabolic Syndrome among U.S. Adults: 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
13. AAOS Seniors and Exercise: Starting an Exercise Program