If you're exercising and eating a healthy diet, then you're doing two of the most important things to protect your heart.
But there are several other habits that can support heart health too.
Get enough sleep
Catching zzzs is critical for heart health. People who don't get adequate sleep are at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity -- all risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. The good news is that sufficient sleep can lower blood pressure, keep you happier, help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress hormones.
If you need help getting to sleep, here are several recommendations from the CDC:
n Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends
n Exercise daily, but not right before bedtime
n Avoid eating or drinking right before bedtime
n Limit artificial light before bedtime (including your smartphone)
n Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
It's true; laughter really is the best medicine.
Laughter can lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones. It can also improve artery function and blood flow.
Although unclear, scientists believe that it has something to do with the endorphins you produce when you laugh. It's possible that these brain chemicals may connect with receptors in the lining of the blood vessels, triggering the release of nitric oxide, which relaxes and widens the arteries. And wider arteries mean more blood flow.
Research has shown that two 20-minute meditative sessions per day can decrease the incidence of high blood pressure and heart disease. That's because meditation helps balance the autonomic nervous system by increasing the parasympathetic system and decreasing the sympathetic "fight or flight" system that is linked to stress.
Meditation can also improve sleep and energy levels. If you're new to meditation, apps like Insight Timer are a good place to start. Begin with short five-minute sessions and work your way up to longer ones.
Fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for your health (and your mood). The sunshine garners much-needed Vitamin D that can help prevent certain conditions, including heart attacks. It also helps you sleep better at night. Try taking a quick walk during your lunch break and enjoy the benefits.
Listen to your favorite tunes
Music can be uplifting and there's science to support its feel-good effect.
Listening to music improves mood and increases nitric oxide production (remember, good blood flow). It's also helpful for people in high-stress occupations (think operating room surgeon who plays tunes while he works).
Indeed, a 2011 study found that nurses who listened to music for 30 minutes had lower stress levels, heart rates and cortisol levels than their counterparts who simply sat quietly for a half hour.
Lowering stress is critical for your heart's health. When you're tense, your body releases stress hormones that can damage the arteries and lead to heart disease. Try playing music while you run errands, clean the house or during your workouts.