By now, you know that you can reduce your risk of heart disease by making lifestyle changes, such as staying active, eating healthy and quitting smoking. However, there are small tweaks you can make around the house that will help reduce your risk even more. To find out how, check out our room-by-room guide and discover why home is where the (healthy) heart is.
For Your Bedroom:
• Get enough sleep. Go ahead and hit the snooze button—your heart may thank you for it. A Nurse's Health Study of 70,000 women, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found an 83% increase in the likelihood of heart attack, stroke or sudden death, when participants only had 5 hours of sleep per night. When women slept just an hour more a night, their risk decreased to 30%. Additionally, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that, over a five-year period, participants who slept for longer periods of time had less build-up of calcium deposits in their arteries, a known predictor of heart disease. If you have trouble falling asleep, try munching on one these 10 foods before you go to bed to help you catch some ZZZs.
• Have sex. A study published in The American Journal of Cardiology may have found a link between the frequency of sex and heart health. According to the study’s lead author, Susan A. Hall, PhD, men who had sex once a month or less had a 50% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease when compared to men who had sex twice a week or more. Though she says additional research is needed to determine if these results apply to women, can't hurt to try, right? Aside from the physical exertion that happens during intercourse, connectedness to another human being can also be very nurturing to the heart, reports Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist and author Reverse Heart Disease Now. The rush of endorphins that are released by sexual pleasure provides a feeling of well-being, which in turn reduces stress, a contributing factor in heart health.
For Your Bathroom:
• Brush and floss. The American Academy of Periodontology recognizes a variety of research showing a link between heart disease and periodontal (aka gum) disease, which occurs when excess plaque (a type of bacteria) buildup leads to inflammation and infection. In fact, some studies have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as those without it. According to Nancy Rosen, DMD, a dentist in Manhattan and a former clinical instructor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the excess bacteria can attach to artery walls and contribute to obstruction-causing clots. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, the American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing teeth once a day and visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings and exams.
• Weigh yourself. Since excess body fat increases your chance of heart disease, get (and stay!) at a healthy weight by stepping onto the scale daily. According to research published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, adults who weighed themselves every day lost more weight as well as avoided weight gain over a two-year period when compared to participants who weighed themselves less often. Try recording your numbers on a piece of paper tacked to the back of the bathroom door to monitor your weight-loss progress and motivate yourself to stay on track.
For Your Living Room:
• Listen to music you love. Break out your CD collection because research from the University of Maryland shows that listening to your favorite tunes may have a healthy effect on your heart. After listening to music that "evoked joy" for 30 minutes, the diameter of the inner lining of participants' blood vessels increased by 26%, thus increasing blood flow to the heart. Conversely, listening to music that made participants feel “anxious” caused their blood vessels' inner lining to narrow by 6%. Michael Miller, MD, the study’s principal investigator, says that, because musical taste is so personal, it’s important to listen to what makes you feel good—whether that's Lady Gaga or Tim McGraw.
• Take a nap. A snooze on the couch does your heart good. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that Greek adults who took midday naps, common in Mediterranean and Latin American countries, had a lower risk of dying from heart disease when compared to those who did not lay down for afternoon snoozes. The study’s senior author, Dimitrios Trichopoulos, MD, points out that even occasional napping can help your heart. He adds that the healthy benefits of naps are most likely because they help reduce stress levels.
For Your Kitchen:
• Replace the fats. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that swapping out foods high in saturated fats with foods rich in polyunsaturated fats can lower your heart disease risk by 19%. “Avoid snacking on candy or baked goods, which are high in saturated fats; instead grab a handful of walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or other nuts or seeds, which are all rich in polyunsaturated fats,” advises Jill Weisenberger, RD. And when it comes to cooking, she says to skip the butter (a saturated fat) and use plant-based oil, like sunflower or soybean, instead.
• Add potassium-rich foods. According to an Italian study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, participants with a higher potassium intake had a 21% lower risk of stroke. The study also found that high potassium levels may be linked to a decreased risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases. Stock your kitchen with foods high in potassium, such as soybeans, apricots, avocados, plain nonfat yogurt and bananas, to make your heart happier.
For Your Backyard:
• Get physical. The American Heart Association notes that "lack of physical activity" is a risk factor of heart disease. If you aren't getting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intense aerobic activity, try doing some sweat-inducing outdoor chores, like gardening, raking and mowing the lawn. Just don't opt for the high-tech tools; reach for the rake instead of the leaf blower and use a push-mower rather than an electric one to really get your heart rate up.
• Hold the sunblock—temporarily. Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, found vitamin D levels may impact heart health. A 2009 study showed that participants with very low levels of vitamin D were 78% more likely to suffer from a stroke when compared to people with normal levels. Luckily, your body naturally produces vitamin D when UV rays hit the skin, so it's easy to stay within normal range. Dr. Sinatra suggests spending 10-15 minutes outside without sunscreen (which blocks UV rays) two to three days a week to get a healthy dose of vitamin D—just be sure it's not when the sun is at it's strongest (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and, if you end up staying outside for longer than the allotted time, be sure to apply sunscreen right away. You can also ask your doctor to test your vitamin D level to determine if a supplement is right for you.
This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.
Related links on Woman's Day: