Exercise- when we exercise, we're not just giving our skeletal muscles a workout, we are giving our heart a workout. Even just a brisk walk is enough to get the heart working a little harder. For maximum effect we want to aim for a heart rate that is 50-85% of our resting heart rate. To measure your resting heart rate, use your fore and middle fingers and find your pulse on your neck. Count the beats for 15 seconds and then multiply by four. This is how much your heart beats per minute. You then want to take that number and multiply that number by 1.5 to 1.85. That will give you a target range of heart beats per minute that you want to hit while exercising. Since you are more likely to count those beats for 15 seconds rather than the whole minute, just divide the target range by four. For example, a resting heart rate of 20 beats for 15 seconds is 80 beats per minute. The target range for exercise would be 120-148 beats per minute. The 15 second count range would be 30-37 beats. If all this seems too complicated, just shoot for an exercise level that has you breathing hard enough to not hold a full conversation, but still breathing well enough that you don't feel like you can't seem to catch your breath or that you're light-headed. Most importantly, if you have not exercised in a while, please talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. While exercise is important to keep your heart healthy, if you haven't been exercising, its possible to do more harm than good. Talk to your doctor and start slowly.
Diet- I love food. Who doesn't? Food keeps our bodies fueled, and it's supposed to keep us nourished. However, a lot of foods that we find so delicious are not nourishing to our bodies, which means they are certainly not nourishing for our hearts. Foods that are high in unhealthy fats (higher saturated fat and any trans fat), sugars, chemicals, sodium and low in fiber and nutrients have a damaging effect on our hearts, veins and arteries. It's important to have a diet that includes plenty of olive oil, fish, lean meats, lots and vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and maybe a little wine (red is best) and a touch of dark chocolate. Follow this at least 80% of the time, and we can ensure we are giving our bodies, and therefore our hearts, the necessary nourishment to keep us healthy. Some of the top foods for our heart include: fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines; high fiber foods such as oatmeal, beans, and lentils; dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale; berries; nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, and pecans; citrus fruit (although if you're on cholesterol lowering medications, steer clear of grapefruit); tomatoes; green tea; winter squash; sweet potatoes; avocados; olive oil- the list goes on and on. I left out so many heart healthy foods, but as you can see, a diet of healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins are just what we need to keep our hearts happy. Also, replacing sodium (salt) in cooking with herbs, spices, and acids like vinegar and citrus has a really positive effect on your heart health.