Five Ways to Support Heart Health

Yes, you can check your blood pressure at home, don a heart-rate monitor, and sidestep saturated fat, but there are other healthy lifestyle changes that can do your heart good—and that are much more fun. Read on for some unexpected ways to help protect your ticker.

1. Move Your Daily Walk to the Afternoon

Exercising at any time of day can strengthen your heart by helping lower bad LDL cholesterol, raise good HDL cholesterol and reduce inflammation. [1,2] But studies show that shifting your regular workout to sometime between lunch and dinner may help your heart even more. That’s because your muscles are warmer and more flexible in the middle of the day, so pushing your pace will feel easier. [3] It follows, then, that you’ll be more likely to exercise more vigorously and frequently—two of the keys to a healthier heart. [1,2] If your schedule only allows for a morning walk, experts say you can mimic the midday effects by including a 10-minute warm-up. [4]

2. Go (a Little) Nuts

All nuts contain some heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain plant sterols, which can help limit the amount of dietary cholesterol the body absorbs. When the 3 o’clock slump hits, consider munching on a 1-ounce handful of unsalted nuts to hold you over until dinner. (do your waistline a favor by seeking out raw or dry-roasted varieties.) But easy does it: The bite-size nutritional powerhouses are also high in fat and calories, so make sure your handful doesn’t become a fistful. [5,6]

3. Let Go With Friends

Friendships are a powerful — yet often overlooked — tool to help manage stress, which is one of the preventable causes of heart disease. [7] Simply picking up the phone and talking with a friend after a tough day can signal the body to release oxytocin, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. A feel-good hormone that compels people (especially women) to nurture and be with their loved ones, oxytocin not only puts the mind at ease, it’s also a powerful antidote to the better-known fight-or-flight response, which is marked by the production of the heart-damaging stress hormone cortisol. [8,9,10]

4. Turn In Earlier

Getting fewer than six hours of uninterrupted sleep may make you more likely to have a heart attack, research shows. Why? Short-changing your sleep needs may elevate your body’s natural response to stress, namely by releasing hormones that speed up your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. [11] To make sure you’re not sleep deprived, aim for seven to nine hours of z’s each night. [12] If you regularly have trouble falling asleep, try turning in at the same time each night, skipping caffeinated beverages in the evenings and dimming the lights about an hour before bedtime. [12]

5. Find Your Personal Exercise Equation

Your heart needs about 150 [13] minutes of exercise a week to keep it strong. It sounds overwhelming, but studies show that you can accumulate those minutes in any combination you like and still reap the health rewards. You can work out an hour at a time, in 10-minute bursts over the course of a day or in some other mix-and-match combo that suits your lifestyle. The goal is to fit in exercise whenever it’s most convenient for you so you’re more likely to stick with it. [13,14,15]

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1. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults

2. American Heart Association: Physical Activity Improves Quality of Life:

3. American Council on Exercise: Best Time to Exercise

4. American Council on Exercise: Warm Up to Work Out

5. Mayo Clinic: Cholesterol:Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Numbers

6. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: Phytosterols

7. American Heart Association: FAQ’s About Stress

8. Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight.

Taylor SE, Klein LC, Lewis BP, Gruenewald TL, Gurung RA, Updegraff JA.

Psychol Rev. 2000 Jul;107(3):411-29. Review.

9. Shelley E. Taylor

Tend and Befriend: Biobehavioral Bases of Af´Čüliation Under Stress


10. Ganz FD.

Tend and befriend in the intensive care unit.

Crit Care Nurse. 2012 Jun;32(3):25-33; quiz 34. doi: 10.4037/ccn2012903

11. Cappuccio FP, Cooper D, D'Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA.

Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies.

Eur Heart J. 2011 Jun;32(12):1484-92.

12. National Sleep Foundation: How much Sleep Do We Really Need?

13. American Heart Association: Recommendation for Physical Activity in Adults

14. CDC: Physical Activity

15. Bhammar DMAngadi SSGaesser GA.

Effects of fractionized and continuous exercise on 24-h ambulatory blood pressure.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Dec;44(12):2270-6.