Follow These 4 Simple Habits for a Healthy Heart, Says Dietitian
We know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease accounted for one in every five deaths in the United States in 2020, and over 805,000 people have a heart attack every year. Coronary artery disease — the buildup of fat deposits (plague) in the arteries — is the most common, affecting over 20 million adults over the age of 20. These numbers feel bleak, and yet, one of the key recommendations the CDC advises to prevent cardiovascular disease is to follow lifestyle habits for a healthy heart, avoiding the increasing risks of high blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
But what would those lifestyle changes look like? We spoke with Mackenzie Burgess, RDN and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices about four simple habits you can follow for a healthy heart — and they are a lot easier than you think.
1. Prioritize fiber.
“Fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, and seeds are all filled with dietary fiber, which can help to promote overall heart health,” says Burgess.
Many studies prove the connection between high-fiber diets and lower heart disease risk. One 2017 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine found that individuals who consumed high amounts of dietary fiber saw a significant reduction in incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease. So packing fiber into one’s diet is crucial for heart health — even in your daily snacks!
“You can create a satiating snack combo by pairing fiber-rich carbs and protein,” Burges continues. “One of my favorites to snack on is bite-sized blueberries! In fact, a one-cup serving of blueberries has 4 grams of beneficial fiber. Some of my favorites are blueberries and yogurt, pistachios and cheese cubes, or whole wheat crackers and hard-boiled eggs.”
2. Eat the rainbow.
“Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides you with different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help promote heart health,” says Burgess. “According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy dietary pattern, which includes a higher intake of colorful fruits and vegetables, is associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Try making a rainbow quinoa salad filled with nourishing ingredients like chickpeas, peppers, and fresh blueberries.”
3. Exercise regularly.
Researchers have linked regular exercise and reduced heart disease risk for decades now. In more recent years, a 2018 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that people with higher levels of grip strength, physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness had rescued risks of heart attacks and stroke, even if a person has a genetic disposition for heart disease.
“Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling can help lower blood pressure and heart rate,” says Burgess. “The American Heart Association recommends exercising at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week to help reduce the risk of heart disease.”
4. Enjoy blueberries daily.
Burgess points to exciting new research that actually proves how blueberries are particularly beneficial for heart health. One recent 2023 study published in Food & Function actually shows how eating one cup of fresh blueberries a day can improve endothelial function — meaning the thin membrane that lines the heart and blood vessels is running smoothly, benefiting heart health overall.
Plus, blueberries contain other essential nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and anthocyanins — a type of phytonutrient rich in inflammation-reducing antioxidants that give blueberries that deep blue color. Burgess points out that all of these nutrients are known to benefit heart health long term.