6 Tips to Heart-Healthy Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are all about choosing to make your life better in the upcoming year. It’s the perfect time to commit to becoming a healthier version of yourself by the end of December, and making a heart-healthy resolution is a great place to start. Heart disease is linked to a wide range of health problems, including a shorter life expectancy. So when you take steps to care for your heart, you’re also working to improve your long-term health.

Sticking with a goal for a whole year can be hard, but it can also be life-changing. Here are six New Year’s resolutions that can help give your heart the attention and care it needs to stay in tip-top shape for years and years to come.

1. Eat one heart-healthy meal each day.

If you’re looking for a powerful way to care for your heart this year, you can start by changing up your eating habits. But don’t be too strict with yourself at first—it’s more important to create a routine that you’ll actually stick with. Instead, try committing to eating one heart-healthy meal each day.

For your heart-healthy meal, try swapping out these ingredients that can increase your chance of heart disease:

  • Salt (sodium): Table salt and processed foods, like canned soup, frozen dinners, and condiments.
  • Unsaturated and trans fats: High-fat foods like butter, full-fat dairy products, and fatty, processed, or fried meats.
  • Sugar: Sugary sodas and juices, sweetened yogurts, processed foods, desserts, and even some breads, salad dressings, and condiments.

Then swap in healthy foods that can help lower your risk of heart disease, such as:

  • Versions of your favorite foods that have reduced, low, or no sodium
  • Herbs and spices (instead of salt for seasoning)
  • Healthy fats, including olive oil, avocados, seeds, and nuts
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Fatty fish, skinless poultry, and lean ground meats
  • Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen)
  • Whole-grain bread, cereal, or pasta

2. Get 150 minutes of exercise each week.

Aside from making heart-healthy food choices, exercising regularly may be one of the best things you can do to lower your risk of heart disease. Physical activity can boost your heart health by:

  • Making the heart muscle stronger
  • Increasing blood oxygen levels
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • Helping you reach and stay at a healthy weight
  • Reducing the risk of heart attack and diabetes

The American Heart Association suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This breaks down to five 30-minute workouts, but you can spread the time throughout the week however you want. The key to keeping this resolution is making it as easy as possible to fit exercise into your schedule.

Keep track of your minutes throughout the week, and give yourself a mental high-five when you reach 150. As you get into better shape, try challenging yourself to add even more heart-healthy moderate or vigorous exercise to your weekly routine.

If you have a chronic health condition, you may need to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new workout routine.

3. Cut down on drinking alcohol.

For many people, New Year’s Day is the start of Dry January, a challenge to go completely alcohol-free for one month. But you don’t have to go completely sober to make a heart-healthy resolution to drink less alcohol. Alcohol can affect your heart by increasing your heart rate, raising your blood pressure, and increasing your risk of irregular heartbeat, stroke, heart attack, and other problems.

If you’re committing to drinking less this year, these tips may help make things a little easier:

  • Create a clear goal for yourself. Try limiting yourself to one or two drinks a day or limiting drinking to certain days of the week.
  • Keep a journal of your drinking habits, including situations where you’re most tempted to drink.
  • Be honest with your friends and family about your goal so they can help support you.
  • Write down all the reasons you want to cut down on drinking, and keep the paper somewhere you can see every day.
  • Pick up a new hobby, spend more time with your friends, and look for other fun ways to fill your time that don’t involve drinking.
  • Don’t keep alcohol at home.

4. Revamp your sleep routine.

When you’re asleep, your heart gets a chance to slow down and recover from the stress of the day. Your breathing stabilizes, your heart rate slows, and your blood pressure drops. If you don’t get enough quality sleep or wake up often at night, your heart doesn’t get that chance to rest and recharge. Over time, this can increase your risk of heart problems, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and heart disease.

This year, you can resolve to take these simple steps to get better sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time at least five nights a week. (Your bedtime should be early enough for you to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.)
  • Wake up at the same time every day, and open your blinds to let in natural light each morning.
  • Put away your phone, computer, and other electronics at least an hour before you go to bed.
  • Start relaxing with a book, gentle stretches, meditation, or soothing music about 30 minutes before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch, and try to eat dinner a few hours before you go to bed.

5. De-stress with a new hobby.

It’s normal to feel stressed from time to time, but dealing with stress for days or weeks on end can start to take a toll on your heart. Chronic stress has been linked to heart problems like irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, inflammation, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

If you want to cut down on stress in your life, try making a resolution to pick up a fun new hobby or start a daily relaxation practice, such as:

  • Taking nature walks
  • Keeping a journal
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation or deep breathing
  • Joining a yoga class
  • Reading a book
  • Starting a gratitude practice
  • Spending time with friends

Commit to giving yourself time each day to do something that helps you relax and recharge, even if it’s just for five minutes. And you don’t have to stick with one thing—feel free to try out a bunch of different hobbies and relaxation techniques to see what works best for you. By the end of the year, you’ll be a pro at dealing with stress without letting it take over your life.

6. Schedule your annual checkup now.

This is an easy one. While your New Year’s motivation is still going strong, call your healthcare provider to schedule your yearly checkup. (If you don’t have a primary care provider, this is also a great time to look for one.) During this visit, your provider will check your heart health and look for signs that you may be at risk for heart problems. They may:

  • Take your blood pressure
  • Order blood tests to check your cholesterol and blood sugar (glucose) levels
  • Check your weight
  • Ask you about your diet, physical activity, and smoking habits

Regular checkups are an important part of keeping your heart healthy. These visits give you a chance to look for risk factors that may impact your heart health and make a plan to change things for the better. Often, conditions like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol can be simple to treat with lifestyle changes or medication. By catching these problems early, you can start making positive changes to help improve your heart health and lower your risk of heart disease.

How Carrum Health can help

If you think you may need heart care that goes beyond a routine doctor’s visit and your employer offers Carrum Health’s cardiac benefit, contact us today. You may be eligible to receive a consultation at no-cost to you from one of the country’s leading heart surgeons from hospitals and clinics specializing in heart procedures, including Cleveland Clinic, ChristianaCare, or Allegheny General Hospital. Oftentimes, these consultations can take place virtually, from the comfort of your own home.

See if the Carrum Health benefit is available to you. Check your eligibility.

The information contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.