10 Unexpected Ways to Improve Heart Health

Fruits and veggies are good for your heart — but so is chocolate and lots of laughs. (Photo: iko/Shutterstock)

If you suffer from a heart condition, you know you have to pay close attention to your diet and exercise habits to make sure you're doing everything you can to protect your health.

But don't stop there. Research shows that there are other, unexpected things you can do to improve your heart health. Celebrate your heart by giving these heart-healthy habits a try:

  1. Cuddle. Research shows that snuggling with a loved one releases oxytocin, a stress-releasing hormone that helps to reduce blood pressure.
  2. Laugh. Laughing dilates blood vessels by 22%, increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure.
  3. Get your chocolate fix. Cocoa beans are full of antioxidants, nutrients that boost the immune system to help the body fight off damage.
  4. Pet your pet. People with pets to have lower blood pressure and are at a decreased risk from heart disease than those who don't have pets. It could be because people with pets also tend to get more physical activity than their non pet-owning peers.
  5. Go meatless — at least on Mondays. A study from the University of Oxford shows that vegetarianism reduces heart disease risk by 32%.
  6. Stand up. Sitting for the better part of the day, whether at work or in front of the TV, significantly increases your risk of heart disease. Stand up and walk around the office, chat with a co-worker, or take a walk around the block every few hours to improve your heart health. According to a University of California, San Diego study, standing and moving for one hour instead of sitting can reduce a woman's risk of heart disease by 10% and cardiovascular disease by 25%.
  7. Sleep — but not too much or too little. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that oversleeping can increase your risk for heart disease while sleeping six hours or less raises it by 27%. Even people who woke up frequently throughout the night or have trouble falling asleep were 34% more likely to develop heart disease. The ideal amount of sleep is seven to eight hours each night.
  8. Caffeinate. Good news for coffee lovers! Coffee may help to stabilize heart rhythms in folks who have problems with an abnormal heart rate. Aim for one to three cups a day.
  9. Stay off the road. Studies show that your heart attack risk increases by 12% for every 10 decibels of highway traffic you are exposed to.
  10. Get married. Married people have healthier hearts. For women, 10 years of marriage works out to a 13% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.