This is a guest post.

All you need is love, right?

Well, it’s a good start, but you’ll need more than that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease kills a staggering 616,067 each year.

Sorry, Beatles fans, you also need a healthy heart to keep your body moving and the love flowing. Here are 4 ways to keep your love machine in good shape.

Get Moving

runner

Image by Flickr via Digo_Souza

As with all muscles, the best way to keep your heart strong is to exercise it. Just as crunches, sit-ups and leg-lifts work your abs, cardiovascular exercise works your heart, keeping it strong enough to continue pumping critical blood throughout your body into your golden years.

Combined with other key lifestyle decisions, routinely exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day, five or six days a week can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease. If that timeframe seems daunting, don’t despair. Even smaller amounts of daily cardio exercise as little as 10 minutes per day

Get Enough Sleep

Scientists have found that lack of sleep raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When you are sleep deprived, you’re less equipped to handle stress effectively. This added stress increases inflammation in your body, which increases your risk of heart-related problems problems even more.

Regularly getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night will help your heart stay healthy and will also bolster your immune system, which will of course help you fend off infection and illness that could affect your heart.

Maintain a Heart-Healthy Diet

cereal

Image by Flickr via Kara Michele

You’ve probably heard of people trying to eat certain foods to lower their cholesterol. In case you’re not exactly familiar with cholesterol and how it works, here’s a quick rundown. Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) that is produced by your liver, and is actually vital for your body to function normally. Some of the vital functions it contributes to are building and maintaining the outer layer (membrane) of cells, serving as a gatekeeper for cells by determining which molecules can pass into it (cell membrane permeability), it helping to produce sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). It also aids in the production of bile, among other things.

Your body carries cholesterol through your blood by molecules called lipoproteins. Low density lipoprotein (LPL) refers to “bad” cholesterol because when there is too much of it, it can build up, which increases the risk of arterial disease. Other types of cholesterol include high density lipoproteins (HDL), very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), and triglycerides, which are another type of fat carried by HDL, VDL and LPLs.

It’s critical for your body to have healthy levels of cholesterol, but like many things, too much of a good thing is bad for you. Having too much cholesterol in your blood can cause arteries to narrow (atherosclerosis), heart attack, chest pain or discomfort (angina), and stroke, among other things.

Luckily you can reduce the probability of developing high cholesterol levels by limiting saturated and trans fat and focusing on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Focus your efforts on low cholesterol diets and LDL reduction, and you’ll be on your way to a healthy heart in no time.

Manage Stress Levels

relax

Image by Flickr via RelaxingMusic

As it was mentioned earlier, consistently getting adequate sleep at night will drastically reduce your stress levels, but it won’t eliminate it entirely. External factors like family troubles, work woes, or anxiety all increase your body’s stress level.

Lots of people experience stress everyday, but why is it so bad for your heart?

Researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly how stress increases the risk of heart conditions, but they do know that they are directly correlated. Some say that higher stress levels make other risk factors more likely. For instance, when you’re stressed out, you may be more apt to overeat, stop exercising, and even take up smoking.

Others argue that stress itself is a risk factor because when it becomes chronic, stress causes your body to produce consistently accelerated amounts of adrenaline and cortisol over a period of time. Another argument is that stress causes blood to clot differently.

No matter what the exact reason, stress is undeniably a factor for heart disease. So take a chill pill already. Relax, spend time with friends, and enjoy the little things in life. Your health could depend on it.

Come to think of it, the Beatles may have been on to something. All we need IS love. We need to love each other, and ourselves —including our hearts.

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