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Get a top-notch ticker: 5 surprising ways to improve your heart health

You're probably familiar with the tried-and-true ways of lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke: quit smoking, lose weight, exercise and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. But that’s not all. Here are some less commonly known ways to do something good for your heart:

1. Brush your teeth (… and floss, while you’re at it!)

Turns out, brushing your pearly whites regularly does a lot more than give you a fresh, clean smile – recent studies suggest that failing to brush your teeth properly can increase your risk of heart attack by up to 70%!  How? As it turns out, plaque and the bacteria that cause gum disease can spread in the blood stream and attach to fatty plaques in your heart's blood vessels, leading to inflammation and increasing your risk of clots, which can trigger heart attacks.

2. Hit the hay

According to the American Heart Association, not sleeping enough, or suffering from sleep apnea, can influence the risk of heart disease and stroke.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) one in three Americans aren’t getting enough sleep.  Although the amount of sleep needed from person to person may vary, the general rule of thumb is at least seven solid hours a night.

3. Go fish

The American Journal of Medicine pooled the results from 19 separate studies and found that people who eat fish regularly were less likely to have a heart attack than those who do not.  Fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and have a lot less salt and fillers than red meat and processed meats like sausage or ham. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least two servings of fish per week.

4. Pop some probiotics

Based on a study from The Cleveland Clinic, taking probiotics regularly might reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Here’s how: Foods like egg yolks and meats produce a byproduct TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide) when digested. TMAO causes buildup of cholesterol, giving those with chronically high TMAO levels have an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke.  Since the job of probiotics is to regulate gut bacteria, this often means lowering TMAO levels, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of cognitive heart failure.

5. Get a dog (or two!)

If you needed another reason to call dogs “man’s best friend,” this might be it. Recent studies suggest that owning a pet, particularly a dog, may reduce your risk of heart disease.  Some common reasons include getting more physical activity (i.e. walks to the dog park or around the block,) and decreased stress and blood pressure levels, and overall happiness.

There’s no better way to celebrate American Heart Month than by doing something good for yourself, so stay away from second-hand smoke, watch your weight, get enough exercise, and don’t be afraid to find creative ways to learn more about your body and stay healthy!