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10 Everyday habits that help your heart

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in North America, so it’s never too early to start paying attention to your health and taking steps to protect your heart. Dr. Peter Alagona, the program director of general cardiology at the Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute, says everyday changes to your lifestyle can make a big heart-healthy difference.

Woman quitting smoking

1Butt out for heart health

Most important, quit smoking! The ill effects of cigarette smoking and tobacco use in general, most importantly on the heart and lungs, has clearly been proven, Dr. Alagona says. When you quit, “the risk associated with prior tobacco use steadily decreases with time. It’s never too late to stop.”

2Eat breakfast for a healthy heart

“One of the reasons everyone believes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may well be that it signals your body that the day has started,” Dr. Alagona says. The body needs predictable habits. Make sure it’s a good breakfast with mainly protein and natural fiber — not just empty calories from simple carbohydrates and saturated fat.

3Get a good night’s sleep for your ticker

Rest is one of the ways our body energizes itself for daily activity. Consistent sleep time and duration is one of the predictable habits our mind and body depend on to function at their best.

4Get moving to boost your cardiovascular fitness

Beyond your routine of daily walking or stairs, try for more structured exercise as well. “People with better aerobic capacities, in better shape, tend to live longer, more healthy lives and reap both physical and mental benefits,” Dr. Alagona explains.

5Eat healthy for your heart

A healthy diet contains not only the proper foods but an appropriate caloric intake, the cardiologist says. Cutting calories from simple carbohydrates and substituting good fats (polyunsaturated) for bad fats (saturated), increasing natural fiber and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is a good start.

Up next: 5 more everyday habits that help your heart >>

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