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6 Healthy Heart Splurges

Making heart-healthy choices shouldn’t be drudgery. In fact, a Johns Hopkins heart disease expert says it can be downright enjoyable.

Strawberries and dark chocolate
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Mediterranean Lunch Makeover

A typical lunch can stray way off the Mediterranean path. To get back on track, try this sample Mediterranean menu, courtesy of Johns Hopkins expert Haitham Ahmed, M.D., M.P.H.:

  • A salmon salad (on whole-grain bread or over a bed of salad greens) and a low-fat yogurt

“Changing only this meal in your day, and maintaining that change, can provide tremendous benefits,” he says.

The easiest path to a heart-healthy lifestyle contains things that you actually like to do. Pleasant activities are more likely to become habits, says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Seth Martin, M.D., M.H.S.

Among behaviors worth looking forward to that also happen to be smart for a healthy heart:

Chill time, just for you

Time spent pursuing yoga, meditation, deep breathing or just sitting quietly isn’t selfish. It’s self-preserving. You’ll feel recharged and—even better for a healthy heart—it will help keep damaging stress at bay.

Sleep in (or nap!)

These seeming indulgences become big benefits for a healthy heart if they help you get your recommended seven to eight hours of nightly sleep, Martin says. Getting a less than optimal amount of sleep raises your risk of heart disease.

Spend one-on-one time with your partner

Regular physical fitness is heart-healthy. And sex is a particularly relaxing kind of physical exertion—so you get a double benefit: a little exercise and a lot of stress release.

A little help from your friends

Exercising with a companion or a group helps you lose weight and maintain weight loss, Martin says. “But more important, exercising with others makes it more enjoyable—you’re not grinding away in the gym by yourself.” He’s a fan of fitness classes and walking or biking groups, for example. Or try adding competitive oomph to workouts by competing with a friend through fitness apps.

Go out to eat

Surprise: Many Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Ethiopian and North African dishes contain elements of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

And yes, even treat yourself to some chocolate

Dark chocolate (check the labels for at least 70 percent cocoa) is full of helpful antioxidants that protect blood vessels and can help blood pressure for a healthy heart. Extra good for you: dark-chocolate-covered almonds and walnuts. “Just eat them in moderation,” Martin says. “A couple of ounces a day can satisfy a sweet tooth.”

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