The health of your heart can affect every part of your body, from your brain, kidneys, and lungs to sexual function.
Small changes in diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in preventing heart disease, yet cardiologists continue to see the toll on Americans.
“Look at what happens to people as we get older: You work your whole life, you save your money and when you’re ready to retire, what to look forward to? Heart attacks, strokes, peripheral arterial disease, dementia, and erectile dysfunction,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, M.D. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, tells TODAY.
“These are scary things, and the point is not fear, but the inspiration to make these changes now to enjoy life.”
It doesn’t take an all-out lifestyle overhaul to improve heart health—”it’s always better to make small, incremental changes over time because it helps you maintain them,” said Dr. Jane Morgan, MD, cardiologist and executive director of community health and education at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta.
The The Harvard Health Blog recently listed some simple swaps for improving heart health TODAY asked experts to add it to the list.
Here are some simple changes you can make right now:
Replace an unhealthy breakfast with a healthy one – or just skip it
While debate rages over whether or not breakfast is the biggest meal of the day, the typical morning menu — which focuses on sugary desserts like cake and cereal, and processed meats like bacon — puts most people off to an unhealthy start.
Eating a lot of added sugar is linked to a higher risk of death from heart disease, Studies have warned. Eating red and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, separate search found.
Morgan advises patients to follow their biological clock: If you’re not hungry in the morning and prefer to start eating later in the day, it’s okay to skip breakfast, she says.
She noted that if you want to eat it, look for healthy options like fresh fruit, whole-wheat toast or yogurt.
Freeman suggested replacing your microwaveable breakfast bowl with oatmeal, which you can also make in the microwave, and putting some fresh fruit on top.
“Try not to eat the heavy, sweeter foods so common in the American diet — we have sausages, pancakes, and pancakes. Except that for a special occasion,” Morgan advised.
Instead of cheese, eat nuts or avocado
Cheese and red meat are the main sources of saturated fat for the typical American, said Elisabetta Politi, a dietitian at the Duke Center for Lifestyle and Weight Management in Durham, North Carolina.
Eating a lot of saturated fat can raise your level of low-density lipoprotein, the bad type of cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Instead of indulging in butter, cheese, cream, fatty meats, tropical oils, and desserts, such as ice cream, cookies, and cake, get your dietary fats from extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids, which Politi also advises reduce inflammation.
If you like delicious snacks: Replace the cheese with chickpeas and celery sticks.
If you like sweets: Replace the cookie with a handful of honey-covered almonds.
But remember that nuts and avocados are high in calories, so enjoy them in moderation, both Morgan and Freeman said.
Replace 20 minutes of scrolling with 20 minutes of walking
Once you start scrolling on social media, it’s easy to get caught up in it, which can make you anxious and isolated. Give yourself a workout break instead, ideally outside – it’s good for the heart and soul.
Morgan suggested starting a walking program by choosing three days a week and walking for 20 minutes at a time, adding up to an hour of exercise per week. Freeman added that build up to 30 minutes of exercise a day, and take the time to break up in other ways.
“Instead of swiping a few times on TikTok, spend some time listening to Tik Accelerated and meditating,” Freeman said. “Take a few minutes of screen time for a brisk walk every morning, which gives you a lot of energy.”
Instead of avoiding the gym, take a virtual class
Many people pay for a gym membership, but then don’t go because they’re worried about their looks or whether they can finish the class. Morgan advises taking advantage of the wonderful health benefits of exercise by taking virtual classes.
“You can rest whenever you want and no one sees you stopped,” she said. “You are not interested in your appearance or what people might think of you. You are not comparing yourself to the person next to you who has been coming to class every day for 10 years.”
Replace food from animal sources with a vegetarian dish
“Studies have shown that just small swaps of plant foods with animal foods make big differences in outcomes,” Freeman said.
I suggest instead of beef, chicken, or pork tacos with beans or lentils. Put sauce on top in place of sour cream or cheese.
He also likes to swap egg products for bean-based products that look and taste like the folded eggs used in sandwiches, but don’t contain cholesterol.
Replace processed food with a natural remedy
Instead of dessert, have some beautiful ripe strawberries. For foods that contain carbohydrates, ditch the processed white carbs — or “garbage carbs” as Freeman called them — and go for whole grain, processed, minimal ingredient options.
“Instead of getting very white fluffy bread, maybe you have dark brown fluffy bread made with whole wheat grains, yeast, and salt,” he said.
Instead of watching TV, get some extra sleep
“If there’s one thing we can do…it’s to sleep a little bit longer,” Morgan said.
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