How to Keep Your Heart Healthy and Strong
A healthy heart is central to overall good health, and it’s never too late to start taking care of your heart. By staying active, making healthy food choices, taking your medications, and keeping tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, you can lower your risk of heart disease and other heart-related complications.
1. Choose heart-healthy food
Following a well-balanced diet can bring down your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, and help you manage your weight. If you already have a heart condition, making healthier food choices can lower your chance of a heart attack or stroke.
The first step to healthier eating is creating daily or weekly meal plans that center around unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, and whole grains. Here are more heart-healthy meal tips to get you started:
- Eat less processed, sweet, salty, and fatty foods. Save the snacks and sugary sweets as occasional treats.
- Limit saturated fats, such as butter, cheese, and fatty meats.
- Watch your sodium intake. Read food labels and choose low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added products.
- Eat at home more often so you can control the amount of salt used in your meals.
- Pay attention to how much sugar you eat or drink. Avoid soft drinks, fruit juices, and choose fresh fruit or unsweetened foods for snacks or dessert.
- Need meal-prep or recipe inspiration? The American Heart Association’s Healthy Eating Guide has excellent recipes that are simple, affordable, and quick to make.
- Talk to your doctor about calorie intake and diet needs. You may need fewer or more calories depending on your needs and activity levels.
2. Stay active, keep your body moving
- Avoid sitting for hours every day. Doing chores like vacuuming and sweeping will keep your body moving.
- Take the stairs instead of the escalator/elevator at malls or shopping centers.
- Have a friend join you on a walk instead of driving to a local café.
- Take an evening stroll around the block with a family member or friend.
- Turn on your favorite song in the comfort of your home and dance!
- Plant a small herb garden on your patio or porch.
Remember, most SCAN plans also include a no-cost gym membership. Click here to learn more.
3. Manage your blood pressure
High blood pressure makes your heart work harder, and this kind of strain on the heart increases the chance of a heart attack, stroke, or heart disease. One of the best ways to keep your heart healthy is to talk to your doctor about how to manage your blood pressure and determine the following:
- A healthy target range for your blood pressure.
- Steps for reaching and maintaining your target range.
- A plan for checking your blood pressure.
- What to do if your blood pressure falls outside your healthy target range.
Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home
Once you and your doctor have determined your target range and have set up a plan, you can monitor your blood pressure at home.
- Check with your doctor to see how often you should check your blood pressure. It’s recommended to take readings at least twice daily, but your doctor may want you to take your readings more frequently and at different times each day.
- Avoid food, caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol 30 minutes before taking a reading. A full bladder can also increase blood pressure so visit the bathroom before you do a reading.
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position with legs and ankles uncrossed. No talking!
- Do readings on bare skin and from the same arm.
- Take two different readings several minutes apart to make sure the results are the same.
IMPORTANT: If you take blood pressure medication prescribed by your doctor, don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor first—even if your at-home blood pressure readings are in the normal range. Stopping these medications, even for a short time, can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels that put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
4. Set up your medication routine
If you’re at risk for heart disease, your doctor may prescribe medication to control your cholesterol or lower your blood pressure to healthier levels (or both). These medications are a key piece to your overall treatment plan for keeping your heart in good working order. It’s important to have a regular routine when it comes to your medication. A routine helps you keep track of when you need to reorder your medications and helps you set up a schedule of when to take your medication, so you won’t miss or forget a dose. Here are some tips on how to set up your medication routine:
- Ask your doctor for three-month prescriptions of your medication so you won’t run out.
- Work with your pharmacist to get automatic refills of your medication. You can also get your automatic refills home delivered from Express Scripts® Pharmacy by calling 1-877-842-9792 (TTY: 711).
- Set an alarm or a reminder on your phone that will alert you when it’s time to take your medication.
- Use a days-of-the-week pill organizer that can make taking your daily meds more convenient and less confusing. Make it a habit to refill your organizer on the same day, once a week.
- Keep your medications near something you do every day as a reminder to take them when you do that activity (for example: on your bathroom counter near where you brush your teeth).
5. Cut back on tobacco use—quit if you can
Smoking narrows blood vessels and makes your heart work harder. Over time, smoking can lead to lung cancer and heart disease. If you smoke, it’s never too late to stop. Consider making today the day you quit smoking. The good news is that after you quit:
- Your lungs and heart will begin to function better.
- Your chance of having a heart attack or stroke will drop.
- Your breathing will improve.
- Your chance of getting cancer will be lower.
With most plans, you can order a free Fitbit® activity tracker to monitor your fitness and activity goals.
Learn more about the gym benefit your plan may offer and find locations near you.