Top Tips to Maintaining a Healthy Heart

Heart disease can be improved — or even prevented — by making certain lifestyle changes. After all prevention is the beat way to treat heart disease. A heart healthy lifestyle means not smoking, eating a balanced diet, being physically active, moderating alcohol consumption, and controlling body weight. For many of us that sounds boring- but it does not have to be.

Our heart healthy resources focus primarily on tips to prevent heart disease or improve your health once diagnosed with heart disease. We will also include information about the variety of cardiovascular health issues and holistic heart healthy treatments. These really come down to focusing on lifestyle issues to support a healthy heart.

Maintaining a healthy heart is important, prevention is key because heart muscle can’t regrow after it’s damaged by incidents such as a heart attack. Although there is some evidence that you may be able to delay or even prevent a heart attack by aggressively treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol, however, once a heart attack occurs and heart muscle dies those cells cannot be regenerated. Learn more about maintaining a healthy heart.


Defining heart disease:

The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD), which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.(1) One person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease that equates to  about 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020—that’s 1 in every 5 deaths. (2)

Heart disease can take many different forms. As mentioned, CAD is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs when the arteries supplying blood to the heart narrow or harden from the build-up of plaque. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances found in the blood. This plaque build-up is also known as atherosclerosis. The site of the plaque determines the type of heart disease:

Coronary artery disease is the build-up of plaque in the arteries supplying blood to the heart.

Peripheral artery disease is the build-up of plaque in the arteries supplying blood to the arms and legs.

Carotid artery disease is the build-up of plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the brain.

Prevention is the best way to treat heart disease, and it is easiest to treat when detected early. 

Heart Healthy Diet:

A heart-healthy diet is a meal plan that can be easily managed in an everyday lifestyle. It is an eating plan that emphasizes foods that promote heart health, such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean poultry and oily fish like salmon and tuna that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. The diet also limits processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats, because these increase the risk of heart disease.

And it is not a one plan for all. A heart healthy plan can be a plant based vegan diet, the Mediterranean diet that includes healthy fats instead of unhealthy ones, or the DASH diet that focuses on reducing fats by making smart protein choices. The overall goal of all of these diets is to reduce sodium and fat intake. Too much sodium can increase your blood pressure, leading to hypertension. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attacks and other heart problems. Fat, on the other hand, can cause plaque to build up on your artery walls, also leading to heart disease.

In addition to what we eat, how we cook is important for a heart healthy diet. Avoiding highly processed packaged foods loaded with sugar, avoid fried foods and eliminating soda and high sugar drinks.

Exercise for a healthy heart:

Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is one of the best things you can do for yourself. (3) It helps cut your chances of getting heart disease. It’s good for your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, energy level, and mood, too.

For many an exercise program after years of inactivity seems intimidating, but gradually working up to an aerobic session of about 20 to 30 minutes, at least three or four times a week is not that difficult.

If you are new to exercise start with a walking program, it is the easiest way to begin exercising. It’s free, it has the lowest dropout rate of any type of exercise and studies show that for every hour of walking, life expectancy may increase by two hours. You could even grab a few friends and start a walking club to help keep each other accountable and celebrate your health accomplishments together.

In addition to cardio training, strength training one or two days each week is good for your heart and overall health. Strength training makes your muscles stronger and also can improve the strength of your bones and metabolism, which can help you avoid diabetes and other conditions.

A regular exercise routine will help you keep your heart healthy for years to come. Jog, swim, golf, hike, play basketball, dance, do yoga — whatever you love to do. The most important thing is to get out there and do it.

Why we need to control stress:

Stress can increase inflammation in your body, which in turn is linked to factors that can harm your heart, such as high blood pressure and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. But chronic stress can also affect your heart in a more indirect way. When you’re worried, you tend to sleep poorly. You’re also less likely to exercise, make healthy food choices, or watch your weight. All of these lifestyle changes can put your heart health at risk.

In people with less-than-healthy hearts, mental stress trumps physical stress as a potential precipitant of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, according to the latest report.(4)

If you think you’re at an increased risk for heart disease because of stress in your life, talk with your healthcare provider. They may recommend counseling, classes, recommend career changes or other programs to help you lower your stress level and your risk for heart disease.

Lifestyle factors:

Making healthy changes to your lifestyle can help prevent and manage heart disease. Many lifestyle factors can contribute to the development of heart conditions, specifically coronary artery disease (plaque buildup in the arteries), stroke, and heart attack. These factors include:

  • Obesity or excess weight
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Lack of sleep
  • Substance abuse

Living a healthy lifestyle, including addressing psychological issues, is an important part of managing heart health.

A good night’s sleep:

In June 2022, the American Heart Association added sleep duration to its cardiovascular health checklist, now called “Life’s Essential 8.” (5) These science-based guidelines were created to help all Americans improve their heart health. The research, from scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, shows that the cardiovascular health guidelines are more effective at predicting a person’s risk of heart disease if they include sleep.

Poor sleep habits “are ubiquitous” among Americans, the study says. About 63% of them were found to sleep less than seven hours a night, and 30% slept less than six hours. Optimum sleep duration for an adult is between seven and nine hours a night, according to the CDC.

People who slept less than seven hours a night had a higher chance of “low sleep efficiency,” irregular sleep patterns, excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep apnea. Specifically, nearly half of the people in the study had moderate to severe sleep apnea. More than a third reported insomnia symptoms, and 14% reported excessive daytime sleepiness.

Those who slept less than seven hours had a higher prevalence of heart disease risk factors like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Other research has also shown connections between short sleep and chronic diseases that could also hurt heart health. In a nutshell, sleep is related to clinical or psychological and lifestyle-related risk factors for heart disease. So, it is not a surprise that poor sleep would increase future heart disease risk.

Supplements to support a healthy heart:

With so much misinformation out there, knowing what to eat and which supplements to take for heart health can feel overwhelming and confusing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be!

Current research confirms that eating a balanced diet rich in healthy fats, protein, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains is exactly what the doctor ordered. While diet, along with exercise and sleep, should be the foundation for optimal health, targeted nutrients in professional-grade supplements can also support cardiovascular function, particularly vitamins K2 and D, phytosterols, CoQ10, chromium, Omega 3’s and policosanol. The sunshine vitamin D is also a major player in heart health, and inadequacy is quite common. Low levels are associated with a decline in cardiovascular health.

The bottom line:

The heart is a vital organ responsible for circulating blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body. While cardiovascular issues are common and can be life-threatening, many risk factors that contribute to the development of these conditions are within your control. Following a healthy diet, sleeping well, and getting regular exercise can help support heart health and prevent cardiovascular-related events. Be sure to always consult a health practitioner for guidance before making changes to your wellness plan.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. About Multiple Cause of Death, 1999–2020. CDC WONDER Online Database website. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2022. Accessed February 21, 2022.
  2. Tsao CW, Aday AW, Almarzooq ZI, Beaton AZ, Bittencourt MS, Boehme AK, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2022 Update: A Report From the American Heart AssociationCirculation. 2022;145(8):e153–e639.
  3. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids 
  4. Association of Mental Stress–Induced Myocardial Ischemia With Cardiovascular Events in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease
  5. Life’s Essential 8: Updating and Enhancing the American Heart Association’s Construct of Cardiovascular Health: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association