Improve Your Cardiovascular Health

SBM: improve-your-cardiovascular-health

Jacob Crawshaw, PhD – McMaster University; Abbey Collins, PhD Student – North Carolina State University; Deepika Laddu, PhD – University of Illinois Chicago; Vanessa Volpe, PhD – North Carolina State University

View this article in Spanish

Managing your cardiovascular  health is important for both the prevention of heart disease and for promoting and maintaining overall health. There are 8 key measures (also known as “Life’s Essential 8”) of overall health:

  1. Healthy diet
  2. Participation in physical activity
  3. Avoidance of nicotine
  4. Healthy sleep
  5. Healthy weight
  6. Healthy levels of blood lipids
  7. Healthy blood glucose (“sugar”)
  8. Healthy blood pressure

All of these measures directly affect your heart health. Making positive changes to one or more of these measures can have a big impact, lowering your risk for heart disease and improving your quality of life.

How to Improve Cardiovascular Health

Being told by your healthcare provider to make changes to your current behavior and lifestyle can be overwhelming. Our lives are busy and having to make change our usual health behavior and daily life can feel like a very big ask. Luckily, there are different strategies to make changing health behavior easier and less stressful. Below are some ideas to boost your confidence in your ability to make changes, stick to them, and recover from setbacks along the way, so you can take control and improve heart health.


Meet with healthcare providers and ask questions

  • Take time to process all the information about your diagnosis, management, and treatment options. 
  • If you’re confused about your diagnosis or just need more information, ask your healthcare provider. That is what they’re there for.
  • Ask about any suggestions that providers might have for living a healthy lifestyle ( meeting with a registered dietitian, seeing a fitness trainer, websites or books that may have helpful information). 


Goal setting  

Plan your next steps and set goals for changes you want to make. Make sure to share your plans and goals with others. Support and accountability will make you more likely to accomplish them.

Try goals that are “SMART”:

  • Specific (your goal is clearly defined)
  • Measurable (you can measure your goal).
  • Achievable (your goal is attainable or within reach)
  • Relevant (your goal is appropriate or applicable)
  • Time-bound (your goal has a due date)

Examples of these goals can be: 

  • 10 to 20 minutes of walking each day at 12 PM.
  • Reduce the amount of soda consumed each day by half.
  • Add one fruit or vegetable to your daily lunch.



  • Keep a record over time (such as a diary) of the health behavior that you want to change so that you can remind yourself of what you’re working towards.
  • Try using an app on your smartphone to track health behaviors like your hours of sleep or number of steps per day.
  • Try out different ways to monitor and track your progress over time, so you know what is working well and what you need more support to achieve.



  • Use past successes to encourage yourself and remind yourself of your accomplishments.
  • Repeat positive phrases or words to remind yourself of your value and worth as a person (e.g., ‘My health is important’, ‘I am learning how to take care of my body’). Making lifestyle changes can be very hard. It is helpful to remind yourself that even thinking about making a change is something to be celebrated.


Surrounding yourself with supportive people

  • Having a supportive social network means that you have people to keep you accountable, encourage you, and help you with anything that may come up. It takes a village to make lifestyle changes!
  • There may be other people who are also trying to make the same changes in their life to improve their heart health. Look for groups in your local area or workplace. Online communities can also be a source of support.


Making things fun

  • In the long-term people are more likely to keep up with new health behaviors that they like to do. For example, pick exercises that you enjoy.
    • Use this opportunity to explore new recipes, take an exercise class, or spend more time with your family.


Creating ways to problem-solve

  • Bumps in the road will happen. Create a plan for what to do when that happens so you can keep moving towards your goals, for example:
  • Remind yourself that it is ok to make mistakes.
  • Set a date to start again. You might tell someone who is a part of your support network about this start date so they can keep you on track.
  • Reflect on what wasn’t working so you can make changes or adjust your goal.


Making positive changes to your behavior and lifestyle can have a big impact on improving your cardiovascular health. While it is normal to experience some difficulties when trying to change behavior, try not to be hard on yourself if you get off track. Take a moment to celebrate your successes so far and remember that changing behavior is hard. The most important thing is that you pick yourself back up and get back on track to keep moving forward with your heart health goals. 

"Improve Your Cardiovascular Health" is third in a series of five articles on how heart health and mental health are related.

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