A doctor's advice to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels should always be taken seriously. But taking care of your ticker isn't only about skimping on sodium, scouting antioxidant-rich foods in the supermarket, and scheduling long sweat sessions at the gym. (Search: What type of exercise is best for my heart?) You're allowed a little fun, too. Read on to discover how enjoyable activities, like laughing at a YouTube video, hitting up happy hour, and planning a trip to the amusement park can help keep your heart healthy and strong.
If your favorite breakfast comes in a box, your morning meal could help lower your blood pressure. (Free Download: Belly-warming oatmeal recipes). Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center tracked the eating habits of 13,368 male doctors for more than 16 years and found that those who ate cereal, especially whole-grain varieties, 7 days a week reduced their risk of high blood pressure by 25% compared with those who never ate it. Stuck on eggs in the a.m.? Munch on cereal as a preworkout snack. Eating just a bowl a week reduces risk by 8%. (Video: Control cereal portions by keeping measuring cups where you can see 'em. Get more healthy kitchen organization tips here.)
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Laughter really may be the best medicine--for your heart. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that among 300 people, those with an active sense of humor were less likely to have heart disease than those who didn't laugh as often. Laugher has also been shown to burn calories, increase blood flow, and activate cardiovascular muscles. Even more good news for the happy-go-lucky: When Harvard researchers tracked 1,300 healthy men for 10 years, they found that individuals with the most positive attitudes at the start of the study were half as likely to develop heart problems compared with men with more negative attitudes.
Print it! Sometimes we just have to laugh at our low moments. Download this poster for free comic relief.
For millions of adults with arterial fibrillation--an irregular heartbeat that increases stroke risk--yoga classes may help to decrease potentially dangerous episodes of cardiac arrhythmia. Yoga has also been linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as greater elasticity in the arteries. If you're new to yoga, find a beginner's class that won't require you to twist your body like a pretzel, or try an easy at-home routine.
More: Check out our new Healthy Heart Tool for tips on how to use cardio, strength-training, and yoga workouts to keep your heart young.
Instead of recharging with a cup of coffee or a sugary snack, break from your afternoon activities by squeezing in a little shut-eye. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Greek researchers tracked more than 23,000 healthy adults for 6 years and found that those who took a 30-minute daytime nap had a 37% lower risk of dying from heart complications than those who surged through their days without slumber.
More: A healthier BMI also equals a healthier heart. Learn how to lose weight while you sleep!
Looking for a way to trim your gym time? Opt for high-intensity interval exercises over slow and steady endurance training. A study in the American Journal of Human Biology found that a workout made up of short sprints provided the same cardiovascular benefits as longer, moderate-intensity runs--in just 15% of the total exercise time. Try interval training on the treadmill, a Spin bike, the sidewalk, or the running track. (Related: Whether you're a walker, runner, or cyclist discover the best interval training technique for you.)
When you raise a glass to good health, give yourself something to celebrate, like staying on track with your workout schedule. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that people who were both regular exercisers and moderate drinkers had lower risks of heart disease than those who did only one or the other. Women should stick to no one more than one drink a day and men no more than two drinks daily. (Did you know? Waist circumference correlates to heart health. Read 8 Tasty Beers That Won't Grow Your Gut before hitting the watering hole.)
Heart-healthy eating doesn't have to mean all vegetarian all the time. Just be smart about the slab of steak you sink your teeth into. Avoid fatty cuts of meat to help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels low. Although "prime" cuts are the cream of the crop in terms of flavor, "choice" and "select" cuts have less marbling (read, fat). They're also more tender and are overall better in quality compared with ungraded meats. If you do get a little fat with your choice or select cut, trim it before cooking.
Try it! Track your calories, workouts, and progress toward a health goal with our new Fit Tracker tool
Aside from being one of the best ways to squash stress, sticking in your earbuds and listening to your favorite tunes can also help stabilize high blood pressure. Japanese researchers found that people who regularly listened to their favorite pop, classical, or jazz music lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average of 5 to 6 points within 3 months.
More: Need a new workout playlist? Check out these heart-revving tunes
Or watch a scary movie, cross your first finish line, or buy a scratch-off lottery ticket. Any activity that gets your heart racing for a little while also makes the muscle stronger, according to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Exciting your heart's rhythm once in a while is like hitting its reset button, which helps keep your heart ticking along.
Can't convince your special someone to cuddle? Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that just 10 minutes of skin-to-skin contact, like hand-holding or hugging, with your mate can help keep your pulse and blood pressure from spiking during high-stress situations. Steamy exercise sessions--you know what we mean--have a similar effect. University of Bristol researchers found that having sex at least two times a week lowers stroke risk and can cut heart disease risk by one-third.