Most Americans make New Year’s resolutions — and setting goals to improve health, such as exercising more, typically top the list. This is a great time to focus on taking optimal care of your most important muscle: your heart. Large studies suggest that following an excellent lifestyle can reduce your risk for heart attacks and strokes by nearly 90%.

Embracing healthier habits can be simpler — and more fun — than you might imagine. The BaleDoneen Method’s “prescriptions” for better heart health include laughter, hugs with your significant other and a daily “dose” of dark chocolate.  We also have easy ways to get more exercise, proven tactics to shed extra pounds (even if you’ve struggled with weight loss in the past) and other science-backed strategies to improve cardiovascular wellness. Here are seven heart-smart resolutions and how to keep them in 2019 — and beyond.

    1. Fit in fitness.  New government guidelines for physical activity emphasize one key message: All of us can improve our health by moving more — any time, anywhere. Instead of vowing to exercise every day for the rest of your life, commit to doing it for a month, then take that success forward for another 30 days. Also figure out what would make working out more appealing would dancing to music make it a “fun break?” Would an exercise buddy help or a group session? And clip on a pedometer: Doing so motivates people to take 2,000 extra steps (one extra mile) per day, a study at Stanford University found. The new guidelines advise getting at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, plus muscle-strengthening exercise on two or more days a week. Check with your medical provider before starting a new fitness regimen to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
    2. Slim down. If getting to your ideal weight seems daunting, start with a more modest goal. Losing as little as 7 to 10 pounds reduces risk for type 2 diabetes (a major risk factor for heart disease) by up to 70%, even if you are already prediabetic. To make it easier to shed those stubborn extra pounds, try tracking what you eat. In a study at Stanford University, people who keep a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t keep any records. We call it a “BLT journal” — write down every bite, lick and taste. Many people are surprised at how many hidden calories they take in (even when preparing meals). There are several free apps that make it easy to keep a food diary, even when you’re on the go. For more inspiration, check out our blog post about 7 heart-smart weight loss tips that really work.
    3. Tame tension. Did you know that chronic stress is a major risk for developing cardiovascular disease (CVD)? A large study conducted in 52 countries around the world found that psychological factors (including stress) nearly tripled risk for a heart attack. Even newer research suggests that chronic tension is just as hazardous to your arterial health as smoking! As we recently reported, mindful meditation is one of the best ways to defuse the toxic effects of tension. Laughter is also relaxing and boosts blood vessel health, studies show. Try laughter yoga, which combines self-triggered mirth with yogic breathing to draw oxygen deep into the body. Also embrace the cuddle cure: Researchers from University of North Carolina report that holding hands or even a 10-second hug from your significant other significantly reduces tension, heart rate and blood pressure. And it feels good!
    4. Shake the sugar habit.  Consuming just one or two sugar-sweetened beverages daily such as energy drinks, fruit drinks, soda or coffee drinks raises risk for a heart attack or dying from CVD by 35 percent, a Harvard study found. Instead, quench your thirst with our refreshing fruit and herb infused water recipes. While most sugary foods should be avoided, there is one sweet treat that’s actually good for your heart: In a study of more than 9,000 people, those who ate an average of 7.5 grams of dark chocolate (one small square) daily were 39% less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who averaged 1.7 grams or less daily. An even bigger study found that eating small amounts of dark chocolate trimmed diabetes risk by 31%.  
    5. Safeguard your smile — and your arteries.  Did you know that taking great care of your teeth and gums could actually save your life? In a large study of older adults, those who hadn’t seen a dentist in the previous year had a 50% higher death rate than those who got dental care two or more times a year. Here’s why it’s important to get checked for gum disease: A recent BaleDoneen study was the first to identify oral bacteria from gum disease as a contributing cause of CVD. This research could revolutionize how dental providers diagnose and manage gum disease, which affects the majority of U.S. adults over age 30. Also check out our easy four-step plan to optimize your oral health and prevent heart attacks.
    6. Eat the rainbow. Did you know that eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can have amazing benefits, including lowering your risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and several forms of cancer? What’s more, eating certain vegetables may be linked to better memory and longer life, recent studies suggest. Yet fewer than one in ten adults eat the recommended amount of these nutritional powerhouses, according to the CDC. One easy way to reach your goal: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal.
    7. Get a heart health screening. Eighty percent of strokes — and 70% of fatal heart attacks — occur in people who had no previous symptoms. Yet these catastrophes are potentially preventable with early detection and treatment, highlighting the potentially lifesaving value of the comprehensive, personalized evaluation the BaleDoneen Method offers. To directly check each patient for hidden signs of arterial disease, we use leading-edge lab and vascular imaging tests, including a painless, FDA-approved ultrasound exam of the neck called carotid intima-media thickness or cIMT.  Two recent peer-reviewed studies have shown that our evidence-based, precision-medicine approach effectively detects, treats and prevents CVD, helping people avoid heart attacks and strokes, even if they have previously suffered one or more of these events or have high genetic risk.