10 Things You Can Do To Protect Your Heart (And Live Longer)

By Isadora Baum

Your heart is what keeps you alive and well, so you need to protect from disease, stress, and other factors that can affect your overall health and wellbeing. To strengthen your heart and fight inflammation, there are a few lifestyle and diet tips to keep in mind that can provide balance and benefits.

When your heart health is compromised, due to bad diet and negative habits, your risk of disease increases and it'll be harder to enjoy the things you love. Here are the best things to do to keep your ticker up and running, for greater quality of life and happiness.

best things you can do to protect your heart
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Eat Protein in the AM

"Most Americans miss out on this important nutrient when they wake up. This sets your blood sugar up to dip soon after eating, leaving you either distracted, stressed or hungry," says Kelly R. Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Having protein will keep you full longer and keep munchies at bay. Plus, it gives your brain a boost to increase productivity and fight mental fatigue.

"Making oatmeal with milk or soy milk and adding nuts or nut butter helps if you need a quick breakfast and don't have time to cook some eggs," she says.

best things you can do to protect your heart
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Eat Without Media Distractions

If you're not present when eating, it's hard to be in check with your appetite and hunger levels, which can cause overeating or strain on the heart from poor digestion.

"Many people pack their lunch for work to save money and eat more nutrient dense food, but when you aren't leaving your work space, it decreases mindfulness around the meal, plus keeps your brain from having a break from work," she says. "This can mean searching for extra food to feel satisfied later and/or extra stress since you didn't have that mental break," she explains.

Instead, take some time for yourself to enjoy your meal.

Prioritize Sleep

"Many people have heard it, but ignore it when it comes to the evening and wanting to stay up late to watch your favorite show, or even check your email," says Jones. However, when you don't get the 7-9 hours of sleep your body needs, you'll release extra stress hormones that not only impact mental and physical health independently, but also negatively influence your appetite regulation, she explains.

Be sure to set an alarm to tell yourself when to wind down and let drowsiness take over.

Eat More Legumes

"While these foods are common in a more plant-based diet, they're just as important for carnivores to include! While they provide plant-protein and many antioxidants, legumes are also rich in both types of fiber: one keeps your bowels regular, but the other supports the gut bacteria, your heart and blood sugar control," she says.

Add them to salads, grain bowls, soups, stir fry meals, and side dishes to pair with lean proteins, like meat, tofu, or fish. A tip? Try this black bean soup recipe for an easy weeknight meal.

Indulge A Bit

"When no foods or treats are off limits, you think about them less and are more satisfied with small amounts of them. It's usually only when you're feeling deprived of something or that you shouldn't eat it that you'll end up overeating on the food," she says.

Give yourself the green light to indulge when you want. Don't go overboard, but let yourself enjoy the foods that you're craving in order to maintain a healthy diet and protect your heart.

best things you can do to protect your heart
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Eat More Potassium

"Sodium has a really bad reputation, but the problem with electrolytes and blood pressure extends beyond this one mineral to its balance with other minerals," she says.

"While Americans tend to over-consume sodium, they also under-consume potassium. We actually require roughly 3 times more potassium than sodium and for some people their intake is the other way around," she says.

By including more plant foods, you'll eat more and better balance fluids to protect your heart. To note: one banana only has 450 mg and a potato has around 1,000 mg. We require 4,700 mg daily, so be mindful of portions.

Eat More Soluble Fiber

"Soluble fiber is the type that dissolves in your stomach fluid and forms a gel-like substance. Its stickiness slows digestion and absorption to keep blood sugar from spiking, which is related to cravings and the body's cholesterol production," she says.

Eating more fiber will keep the heart healthy and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. "The stickiness also helps to bind cholesterol products for excretion from your body," she explains.

Get EPA and DHA

Be sure your omega-3 sources contain EPA and DHA. "Omega-3 is more of a broad term than most people recognize. While plant foods such as chia, flax and walnuts provide omega-3, it's in the form of ALA, which your body then has to convert to EPA and DHA, the more active forms that benefit your health," says Jones.

"Unfortunately, conversion is low, so if you aren't eating fatty fish twice per week, sources of EPA and DHA, you should start to take an algae oil supplement. Adequate intake is associated with lower blood triglycerides," she says.

Get Vitamin E From Food

"Most Americans do not consume enough vitamin E, an important antioxidant vitamin that works to protect our vascular cells. By eating less fats from animal foods, and more from plant foods like peanuts, sunflower seeds, and avocado, you'll boost your intake of this nutrient, impacting your heart disease and cancer risk," she says.

Don't supplement though, some research shows E supplements increase your heart disease and cancer risk, she explains.

Limit Alcohol

"Sorry to say it, but if you have high blood pressure and are eating a balanced diet and regularly exercising, you may react to alcohol more than others. Even intake in moderation is shown to increase blood pressure in some individuals, especially men over 40," she explains.

So, you can still enjoy a glass of wine to unwind, but be careful about how often and how much you're drinking in the week.