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5 Scientifically Backed Habits That Contribute to Heart Health

heart healthy vegetables

Making smart lifestyle choices, including a nutritious diet and regular exercise, will keep you healthy for the long-term. According to the American Heart Association, when people adopt heart-healthy activities, they significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases and improve their overall health. Here are five science-backed habits that will keep your heart in good shape.

Limit Added Sugars in Your Diet

granola bar and nuts

"Added sugars" refer to sugars that have been added to processed foods during production; examples include syrups and sugar derivatives. According to a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, people who consumed more than 25% of their daily calories from added sugars suffered a higher risk of heart disease than those who consumed only 10% in this form.

You can keep your added sugar intake to a minimum by consuming fewer sweetened drinks (such as juice and soda) and sugary foods (such as candy and sweet desserts). That doesn't mean you can't indulge your sweet tooth once in awhile—go for a healthier alternative like these homemade granola bars the next time you have a craving.

Reduce Your Sodium Intake

The average American consumes 3,400 grams of sodium per day, well above the 1,500 grams recommended by the American Heart Association. According to one long-term study of U.S. diets, a sodium-rich diet can lead to high blood pressure and even heart disease.

Curb your sodium intake by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (such as bananas and beets) that are high in potassium, which naturally balances out sodium. Doing so can help you control your blood pressure. A good place to start is by following the DASH diet (aka, "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension").

Cut Back on Trans and Saturated Fats

baked salmon dish

Consuming lots of trans and saturated fatty acids raises your risk of cardiovascular diseases. These bad fats increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels compared to your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Trans and saturated fats are found in red meat, margarine, partially hydrogenated oils, frozen meals, and some desserts.

Reduce your consumption of these fats by following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, such as the Mediterranean Diet. Healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are important in regulating blood pressure and inflammation so be sure to get your fill through salmon and nuts like flax seeds and almonds. For instance, you can enjoy this gluten-free almond cake, a healthy and tasty confection.

More Leafy Greens

Vegetables are a good source of many vitamins and minerals, and they have little to no trans or saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. What's more, veggies are full of antioxidants and fiber, which protect against heart disease. According to a 2014 study, eating more dark, leafy greens can help reduce the risk of many health-related issues including cancer and obesity.

It's easy to eat more veggies with so many delicious recipes available. Kale is a nutrient powerhouse—try it in this kale quinoa salad. This buckwheat salad features a mix of different greens so you're not limited to just one option!

Exercise on a Regular Basis

walking fitness exercise

Physical activity is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Heart Association, people who do weekly exercises can lower their risk of heart disease and other related health issues. The World Heart Federation suggests getting in two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise or one hour of vigorous physical activity, which is supported by many studies.

This means getting out for a 30-minute brisk walk each day or going for a swim a few times a week, which is a fun and effective way to stay healthy.

Protecting your heart is crucial to your overall well-being. By developing these scientifically proven habits, you can enjoy your life in peak condition.

Besides maintaining your heart health, you might also be concerned with avoiding muscle degeneration. Here are five simple ways you can keep your muscles fit and strong.

Photos: udra11 /, Gordon Bell /, svariophoto /, KieferPix /