Diet, Exercise, Mindfulness, and Lifestyle

Having a healthy heart is one of the strongest predictors of a long, healthy life.

While your doctor may have suggested eating better and exercising as heart-healthy tips, you can do a lot more to promote good heart health.

Of course, it’s important to talk with your doctor or healthcare professional before making big changes to your health, so be sure to do that before tackling this list.

Also, you don’t have to change everything at once. It’s much better to start small and gradually adopt more healthy behaviors than be overwhelmed with change.

Here are 21 diet and lifestyle tips for a healthy heart.

Small changes to your diet can make a big difference in your heart health. You can choose to add them all in or select a few to work on first.

1. Eat more fiber

Fiber is found in vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and lentils.

Numerous studies have shown that getting enough fiber in your diet is linked with better heart health (1, 2, 3, 4).

The reason is that fiber helps to reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes, and supports healthy body weight, all of which are important for good heart health (5, 6).

Also, foods rich in fiber are high in many other beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (5).

2. Watch your salt intake

Too much salt (sodium) can increase your blood pressure and result in hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure.

High blood pressure puts you at risk of a heart attack by weakening blood vessels and decreasing blood flow to the heart. Fortunately, diet modifications like reducing your salt intake can reduce your risk and better manage your blood pressure (7).

In some cases, people with salt sensitivity may not achieve lower blood pressure by reducing their salt intake alone and may need other interventions, such as medication. Though, monitoring your salt intake is still recommended (8).

Most of the salt we get in our diet comes from pre-packaged ultra-processed foods and restaurant foods. Therefore, making meals from home and using spices and herbs to flavor your food can effectively reduce your salt intake.

It’s currently recommended that most people keep their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (9).

3. Eat the rainbow

Vegetables and fruit are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants — all important for a healthy heart.

One review found that for every 200 grams of vegetables and fruit consumed (up to a maximum of 800 grams), the risk of heart disease and stroke decreased by 8% and 16%, respectively (10).

What’s more, eating various colorful vegetables and fruit means you’re getting in different phytonutrients believed to have unique health benefits (11).

For example, blue and purple fruits and vegetables are rich in anthocyanins, which may lower the risk of heart disease. Other colored vegetables and fruit are also linked with better heart health, such as red, orange, dark green, and white ones (11, 12, 13).

Thus, it’s best to try getting in a variety of colored vegetables each week to reap the most benefits.

4. Quit or limit alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption may have negative health effects, such as liver damage, weight gain, heart disease, cancer, and neurological damage (14, 15).

A recent study with 371,463 people showed a direct association between alcohol consumption and the risk for high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. In particular, more than seven drinks per week led to the greatest increases in risk (16).

It’s hotly debated whether low-to-moderate alcohol consumption (one or fewer drinks per day for women and two or less per day for men) may help lowers the risk of heart disease (9, 17, 18).

As such, current recommendations are to abstain or limit your alcohol consumption.

5. Cook at home more often

Studies have shown that excessive intake of ultra-processed foods like pre-made meals and some restaurant food, increases your risk of heart disease.

These foods are usually higher in calories, sugar, salt, and fat than at-home meals (19, 20, 21, 22).

Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients in your food. For example, you have greater control of how much sugar, fat, and salt you’re adding, and allows you to make healthier swaps.

6. Eat healthy fats

Eating a diet rich in unsaturated fats is linked with better heart health (23, 24).

In particular, a diet rich in omega-3s has may help reduce your risk of heart disease and severe outcomes, such as a heart attack or death (25, 26).

You can get omega-3s from fatty fish and seafood, nuts and seeds (e.g., flaxseed, chia seed), avocado, and some plant oils.

The heart is a muscle and needs exercise to strengthen it. Therefore, living an active lifestyle is a science-backed way to keep your heart healthy.

Fortunately, there are many ways to strengthen your heart through exercise.

7. Do more cardio

Getting your heart rate up is a great way to strengthen it.

Cardio exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscle and blood vessels. Having a strong heart requires less effort to pump oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. That is less taxing on the heart and can reduce your risk of heart problems (27, 28, 29, 30).

Ideally, try to get a mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity cardio, such as walking, hiking, climbing stairs, doing household chores, swimming, running, cycling, playing sports, and dancing (29, 30).

8. Lift some weights

The benefits of strength training are endless, including for your heart health.

Strength training exercise helps to strengthen the heart and blood vessels to improve blood circulation and delivery of important nutrients throughout the body.

That helps lower blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar, total cholesterol, and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels (31, 32, 33, 34).

Aim to include some strength training in your routine at least 2–3 days per week.

9. Take the stairs

If you’re looking to get some steps in and improve your heart health, taking the stairs is an easy way to do it.

Taking the stairs helps increase your heart rate and improve the muscular endurance of your lower body (35, 36, 37).

While it depends on the number of stairs you’re climbing and the length of time, each step you take can add to better heart health.

10. Sit less

Sitting for too long can increase your risk of heart disease. In particular, your risk increases when total daily sitting time reaches over six hours (38, 39, 40).

Interestingly, one study found that you’ll need around 60–75 minutes of physical activity per day to counter the negative effects of sitting for too long, which may not be feasible for everyone (41).

That’s why it’s important to reduce your sitting time as much as possible.

If you have a desk job, try to get up every 30–60 minutes to grab some water, visit the washroom, or speak with a co-worker.

When you’re at home, try to break up TV-watching or time spent scrolling on your phone with some periods of activity. For example, get up and put on a load of laundry, spend 15 minutes cleaning, or take a quick walk.

Being mindful helps you become more aware of your surroundings and lowers stress. Thankfully, mindfulness is finally getting the attention it deserves and is simple to incorporate to your life.

11. Meditate

Meditation has been around for thousands of years but has only recently gained attention from researchers as a way to promote overall health.

It’s a practice that involves training your awareness and becoming more mindful and present.

In particular, meditation helps lower stress in the body by activating your “rest and digest” system known as the parasympathetic nervous system. That reduces the body’s stress response system known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (42, 43, 44).

In one study, 61,267 people found that meditation was independently linked to a lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease (45).

While promising, experts argue more research is needed. That said, there can be no harm done by practicing mindfulness in your day-to-day. (46, 47, 48)

12. Practice gratitude

Whether through prayer, meditation, or inner reflection, acknowledging the good in life is a time-tested way to improve your health.

In particular, expressing gratitude is associated with better adherence to medications and lifestyle changes.

Having gratitude is thought to help enhance your self-efficacy or belief in yourself, allowing you to make better decisions for your health (49, 50, 51).

However, another study found that optimism rather than gratitude led to better self-care behaviors, perhaps due to the positive focus on the future rather than the present (52).

Regardless, having a positive outlook may play a role in bettering your health.

13. Watch the news less

Due to our inherent desire for safety, we naturally pay more attention to negative (i.e., potentially threatening) news, and the news stations know this drives their ratings.

If you’re becoming increasingly upset after watching or reading the news, you may want to set some boundaries. Constantly being in a stressed, upset mood can increase your blood pressure and cortisol, which are bad for the heart long-term (53).

While it’s important to stay up-to-date with world events, you’re also allowed to disconnect from them.

Some helpful suggestions include unfollowing news pages on social media, allotting certain times to watching the news, and cutting yourself off a few hours before bed.

In addition to diet, exercise, and mindfulness, many other healthy lifestyle habits can support a healthy heart.

14. Get enough sleep

Sleep isn’t for the weak; it helps you become strong.

Getting enough sleep — around 7–9 hours per night — is linked with a lower risk of heart disease (54, 55).

In fact, one study in 461,347 people found that short sleepers, defined as less than six hours of sleep per night, had a 20% increased risk of a heart attack. Interestingly, too much sleep (over 9 hours) saw a 34% increased risk (56).

Though more research is needed, it shows the importance of sleep and heart health.

To improve your sleep, try to limit caffeine to around six hours before bed, have a bedtime sleep routine, limit screen time to two hours before bed, and aim to go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day.

15. Laugh more

Laughter is the best medicine.

Getting in a good laugh releases feel-good hormones like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, and suppresses stress hormones like cortisol.

That’s why it’s not surprising that laughing is linked to better mood, reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and decreased risk of heart disease in certain populations (57, 58, 59, 60).

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter what makes you laugh. Whether it’s a comedy show, funny viral videos, laughing yoga, or joking around with your friends — a good laugh is all that’s needed.

16. Quit smoking

It’s well-established that smoking increases your risk of many diseases, including heart disease (61, 62, 63).

Therefore, healthcare professionals recommend to completely quit smoking to improve your health. For help on smoking cessation, speak with your doctor or visit the CDC’s website for resources to help you.

Also, second-hand smoking (inhaling the smoke of cigarettes from others) is associated with a greater risk of heart disease. If you don’t smoke, it’s a good idea to reduce your exposure to second-hand smoke (64).

17. Get a pet

If you haven’t been tempted to get a furry friend before, perhaps the heart health benefits will incite you to change your mind.

Numerous studies have linked pet ownership with better heart health, including lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart disease-related death (65, 66, 67, 68).

There are many potential reasons for this, such as increased physical activity by walking, lower risk of depression and loneliness, and reduced stress (65, 66, 67, 68).

18. Spend more time in nature

Studies have shown that being in green spaces, whether a park in the city or a large forest, is associated with better heart health (69, 70, 71, 72, 73).

Green spaces allow people to be more physically active, socialize more, have access to cleaner air, and have lower stress levels.

That leads to greater release of mood-boosting hormones and a reduction in stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which help to reduce blood pressure.

Also, being in nature can motivate you to be more physically active, which further supports heart health (74).

19. Listen to music

Listening to some fun tunes can be a good way to reduce stress and let loose.

While there isn’t much data suggesting listening to music can reduce your risk of heart disease, research shows that music can reduce stress and improve your mood (75).

What’s more, if the music gets you up and dancing, this can be a great cardio workout which we know is good for the heart (76, 77).

20. Socialize more

Loneliness is an independent risk factor for heart disease.

Though the mechanism isn’t fully understood, it’s thought that lack of social activity may lead to being less physically active and promote greater reliance on negative coping strategies, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, decreased sleep, and poor diet quality (78).

One study in 3,678 older men found that lower social contact (defined as every few months) with family and friends was associated with a 59% increased risk of heart failure (79).

Another study in 57,825 older women found that those with greater social isolation and loneliness had a 13–27% higher risk of heart disease than women who experienced less social isolation and loneliness (80).

So whenever you’re able to reach out to some friends or family. It’s good for your health and theirs.

21. Have sex

Though there are some obvious benefits to having sex, you may not realize how good it is for your heart.

Having sex increases your heart rate and promotes endurance, which helps to strengthen your heart. It also helps reduce stress and promotes the release of endorphins and other feel-good hormones (81).

Any type of sex that increases your heart rate will be good for the heart.

There’s a lot you can do to improve your heart health, many of which are simple lifestyle changes.

That can include getting more exercise and sitting less, eating a nutritious diet, socializing and laughing more, and getting out in nature. Fortunately, many of these habits are also a lot of fun.

Regardless of your age, starting or continuing these habits will benefit your health, so take it slow and try your best.