Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing an estimated 500,000 adults every year, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Regular physical activity plays the biggest role in strengthening heart muscles -- and people who are inactive are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as people who are physically active. Consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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Engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week if you are of healthy weight. This activity does not need to be intense, and even brisk walking is great for heart strengthening, notes the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
Exercise for at least 60 minutes most days of the week if you are overweight or obese. This amount of exercise will prevent weight gain and should assist with gradual weight loss.
Include aerobic exercise, such as jogging or bicycling, strength training activities and flexibility exercises in your routine. A combination of these three types of activity is most beneficial to heart health.
Cut the number of calories you consume each day by about 500 if you need to lose weight. Being overweight puts extra strain on your heart muscles, causing them to work harder and weakening them over time. Reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories per day should lead to about 1 lb. of weight loss per week.
Stop smoking immediately to prevent further damaging your heart and to allow your heart to begin healing if you've been smoking for many years. Smokers are six times more likely to experience a heart attack than people who have never smoked.
Drink in moderation and limit your salt intake to help control blood pressure.
Treat any health conditions that may be interfering with your heart strength, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. Speak with your doctor about steps you can take to manage these conditions, and consider medication if it becomes necessary.
Eat a balanced diet that is low in trans and saturated fats and contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein sources. The University of Washington also recommends eating moderate size food portions and making gradual changes to your diet.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- National Health Lung and Blood Institute; Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart; Jun 2006
- University of Washington; You've Had a Heart Attack - What Now??; Nov 1997
- American Heart Association: Physical Activity
- Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa: Exercise Your Heart Muscle
- The Franklin Institute: The Human Heart