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Ways to Keep Your Heart "Bulletproof" As You Age

This is what doctors want you to know.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, but doctors say just a few healthy habits can make a huge difference. "Heart disease is 90 percent treatable – everyone can prevent heart disease anywhere in the world, especially by eating foods that are low in salt and cholesterol, exercising regularly, and not smoking," says Leslie Cho, MD, Section Head for Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic. "Even if a person has a family history of heart disease, we can still prevent and treat heart disease thanks to incredible advances in medicine." Here are five ways to keep your heart healthy as you age, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Prioritize Exercise

woman jogging

Exercise is crucial for heart health. "Aerobic exercise and resistance training are the most important for heart health," says Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D. "Although flexibility doesn't contribute directly to heart health, it's nevertheless important because it provides a good foundation for performing aerobic and strength exercises more effectively… If you have a good musculoskeletal foundation, that enables you to do the exercises that help your heart."


Avoid Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke

no to smoking to lead an incredibly healthy lifestyle

Smoking is incredibly bad for your heart, experts warn. "Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25 to 30 percent higher for people who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work," says cardiothoracic surgeon Marc Gillinov, MD. "According to the American Heart Association, exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year. And nonsmokers who have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol have an even greater risk of developing heart disease when they're exposed to secondhand smoke. This is because the chemicals emitted from cigarette smoke promote the development of plaque buildup in the arteries."


Avoid Unhealthy Fats

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

"Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease," says Brodie Marthaler, MD. "A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products and eggs are some of your best sources of protein. Certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. Finally, legumes, like beans, peas and lentils, also are good sources of protein, and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat. Incorporate these foods into your diet, and you'll find that heart-healthy eating is both doable and enjoyable. With planning and a few simple substitutions, you can eat with your heart in mind."


Get Enough Good Quality Sleep

woman sleeping peacefully in bed with her dog

Sleep is essential to heart health, with the CDC recommending at least seven hours of good quality sleep per night. "The new metric of sleep duration reflects the latest research findings: sleep impacts overall health, and people who have healthier sleep patterns manage health factors such as weight, blood pressure or risk for Type 2 diabetes more effectively," says American Heart Association President Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FAHA. "In addition, advances in ways to measure sleep, such as with wearable devices, now offer people the ability to reliably and routinely monitor their sleep habits at home."


Don't Neglect Dental Health

smiling woman brushing teeth

"Dental health is a good indication of overall health, including your heart, because those who have periodontal (gum) disease often have the same risk factors for heart disease," says Dr. Gillinov. "Studies continue on this issue, but many have shown that bacteria in the mouth involved in the development of gum disease can move into the bloodstream and cause an elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. These changes may in turn, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan