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6 Surprising Ways to Boost Your Heart Health

Small changes to your daily routine can yield big benefits to your heart health! Here’s how to get in tick-tock shape.

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How to Improve Your Heart Health

Did you know that as much as 80 per cent of premature heart disease is preventable by making specific lifestyle choices? Some heart health strategies, such as exercising and managing weight, are well known. But others may not have crossed your mind. “A small change in your everyday routine can potentially have a big impact in the long run,” says preventive cardiologist Dr. Beth Abramson, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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1. Boost Your Heart Health by Getting Eight Hours of Sleep

“When you’re not rested, everything that happens in your life is a lot more stressful,” says Dr. Arya Sharma, founder of the Canadian Obesity Network and a professor of medicine at the University of Alberta. If we’re sleep deprived, our bodies also have more difficulty controlling blood pressure, inflammation and glucose levels. These factors can all have an impact on cardiovascular health.

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2. Boost Your Heart Health by Engaging in Volunteer Work

Doing good for others helps your self-esteem and relieves stress. Research published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2016 showed that a feeling of purpose in life is linked to a lower likelihood of heart attack and stroke. “We know that loneliness is a risk factor for heart health,” adds Sharma. “Volunteering gets you out of the house and creates a social network.” Depending on the type of work you do, volunteering might even increase your physical activity.

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3. Boost Your Heart Health by Avoiding Polluted Air

Exposure to this kind of pollution over time raises your risk of heart disease. Inhaling contaminants formed from chemicals like sulphur dioxide, carbon and nitrogen oxides may irritate arteries and increase inflammation. Even short periods of exposure are unhealthy for people who already have other cardiovascular risks, such as high blood pressure. Try to get your outdoor exercise far away from highways and industrial districts, and spend more time indoors when the air quality index is poor.

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4. Boost Your Heart Health by Treating Depression

“Depression can affect the way we behave,” says Abramson. Not only are we more likely to drink too much alcohol and to avoid exercise, there are also physiological effects of this condition on the body, such as higher levels of stress hormones and blood sugar, that can be associated with poor heart health.

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5. Boost Your Heart Health by Eating Breakfast

A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that healthy people who skipped breakfast were almost three times more likely to have heart disease six years later than those who partook in a substantial morning meal. One possible reason: “If you’re eating a proper breakfast, you’re less likely to be hungry later and make poor food choices,” says Abramson. “We need to eat a balanced diet as part of a healthy lifestyle.” Choose whole-grain, low-fat breakfast foods and include fruit.

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6. Boost Your Heart Health by Laughing

A 2016 study in the Journal of Epidemiology of more than 20,000 people over the age of 65 found a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease in those who reported laughing every day. Laughter reduces stress and depression, and it may also serve as a mini-workout, helping your circulation and protecting the health of your arteries.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada