8 New Ways to Be Heart-Healthy

Eat right. Don't smoke. Exercise.

We're all familiar with these well-known ways to prevent heart disease. But new research has suggested additional, less intuitive ways to be heart-healthy -- and many of them couldn't be easier.

Whole Living senior editor Terri Trespicio shares some unusual strategies for boosting your heart's health:

1. Floss
As if there weren't enough benefits to flossing, here's one more: New research has shown a direct link between flossing your teeth and cardiovascular risk. For many years it was unclear whether poor oral health was simply correlated with heart disease risk factors or whether the relationship was more direct. But recent studies have suggested that periodontal bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the gums, possibly damaging blood vessels and leading to clots.

2. Get a Pet
A 10-year study of more than 4,300 Americans suggests that the stress relief provided by having a pet can cut your heart attack risk by almost a third. The connection comes from the relationship between anxiety and cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks. Even mere exposure to pets can make an impact: One study found that visiting with a dog for 12 minutes improved the heart and lung function of patients with heart failure.

3. Stay Connected
Relationships nurture your heart, according to recent research. Loneliness is a real risk factor for heart disease, leading to higher risk of fatal heart attacks and high blood pressure. If you feel lonely, try reaching out to someone new or volunteering to help you build closer relationships.

4. Stand Up
If you sit at your desk for long stretches during the day, you may be putting yourself at risk for heart disease. A recent study showed that those who stand up and walk around more frequently between bouts of inactivity are less likely to develop heart problems. The negative impact of too much sitting even applies to routine exercisers, which means that we all stand to gain from stretching our legs a little more often.

5. Love Your Lentils
Many studies have shown that high-fiber foods such as lentils help prevent heart disease -- in fact, a 25-year study of 16,000 middle-aged men associated lentils and other legumes with an 82-percent reduction in risk of death from heart disease. Diets that are high in whole grains and vegetables have also been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk.

6. Get a Flu Shot
Influenza puts people in a weakened state that can trigger a heart attack or stroke in vulnerable individuals. Studies show a relationship between annual flu shots and reduced risk of cardiovascular events.

7. Don't Take Calcium by Itself
Recent revelations suggest that taking calcium supplements alone may increase heart attack risk. If you do take calcium pills, make sure they include vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium to be absorbed from the digestive tract.

8. Try Meditation
A recent study showed that rates of heart attack and stroke were reduced in half for coronary heart disease patients who practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM). In lieu of formal techniques like TM, sit for three to five minutes before you start your day and just breathe; do nothing else. This will kick off the relaxation response, setting yourself up for a heart-healthy day.

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