Why You Should Care About Strong Heart Health and 6 Ways to Optimize It

By Hannah Daigneault, MS, RDN, LDN, February 16, 2024

Senior couple dancing in living room

Heart health has been a popular research and headline topic for decades. Some might say that heart disease research is what put modern nutrition research on the map. Landmark studies, like the Framingham Heart Study and Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries Study, started in the mid-1900s and put the focus on lifestyle behaviors that contribute to, and prevent, cardiovascular disease.

And while it’s important to consider the factors that contribute to disease, it’s not only the prevention of negative health outcomes that matter—promoting optimal heart health from the start is crucial as well.

This article explores the foundations of heart health for longevity and tips for keeping your cardiovascular markers at top performance.


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Why is heart health important?

Heart health refers to the health of your entire cardiovascular system: your heart, blood vessels, blood pressure, and blood composition. Biomarkers for heart health indicate your body’s ability to transport and clear cholesterol, keep inflammation in check, and effectively pump oxygen and nutrients to all of your vital organs.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the longest standing cause of early death, also referred to as mortality, in the US. According to a 2023 update from the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is responsible for most CVD-related deaths in the U.S. (41.2%), followed by stroke (17.3%), other CVD (16.8%), high blood pressure (12.9%), heart failure (9.2%), and diseases of the arteries (2.6%). [1]

Even though the statistics regarding cardiovascular disease are sobering, it’s never too late to reduce your risk.


How proactively addressing heart health can keep you healthier longer

Since heart disease is a leading preventable cause of death, prioritizing your heart health can go a long way in achieving a long and healthy life.

Strengthening the health of your heart and cardiovascular system can help prevent:

  • Atherosclerosis: Fatty plaque buildup inside the arteries that can block blood flow.
  • Heart attack: When a plaque ruptures and blocks an artery supplying the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle.
  • Heart disease: General term for conditions affecting the heart's structure and function.
  • Stroke: When a blood clot blocks an artery to the brain, cutting off oxygen and causing brain damage.
  • High blood pressure: Pressure inside arteries is higher than normal, forcing the heart to work harder.

One of the strongest predictors of heart disease is chronic inflammation. [2] While a little bit of inflammation in the body can be helpful, like when fighting off an infection or recovering from an injury, too much inflammation over a prolonged amount of time can set in place a cascade that is damaging to many bodily processes.

It can be hard to gauge the status of your heart health by simply relying on how you feel day to day. Many of the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, including inflammation, might go unnoticed until you’re in the middle of a heart health episode. 

Signs and symptoms of a heart health episode include: 

  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing or getting winded easily, sometimes waking you up at night
  • Palpitations: Feeling your heart racing, fluttering, or pounding
  • Irregular pulse: Heartbeat rhythm doesn't feel normal or steady
  • Nausea: Feeling sick to your stomach, sometimes along with sweating or dizziness
  • Fatigue: Feeling abnormally drained, tired, or weak with low energy
  • Lightheadedness: Feeling dizzy, woozy, or faint, which may indicate low blood pressure
  • Confusion: Having difficulty thinking clearly or with memory or understanding

Monitoring your blood biomarkers can help you stay ahead of symptoms and keep you on the right track so you reduce your risk of experiencing a cardiac event.


6 tips for optimizing your heart health

Emerging evidence suggests that some elements of your cardiovascular system may be determined by your genetics, putting you at either a higher or lower risk for heart disease from birth. [3] That said, there are also clear lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of heart disease, and it is possible to reduce your risk even if your genes predispose you to CVD. 

Here are six of our top heart health tips:

1. Enjoy vibrantly colored foods and beverages

Brightly-colored fruits and vegetables like berries, leafy greens, bell peppers, citrus and sweet potatoes have one thing in common: antioxidants. Antioxidants like the polyphenols in berries help to protect against oxidative damage wrought by free radicals—loose electrons that can damage the integrity of cell structure and increase inflammation in the heart and blood vessels. [4] 

The more deeply colored the produce, the more concentrated the antioxidants. Opt for fresh, frozen, or dried produce for the most antioxidant benefit (canned fruits and vegetables are often exposed to high temperatures that can damage the bioactive compounds). [5] 

If you enjoy fruit juice, include richly colored, 100% pomegranate juice and cranberry juice in your rotation. Both have been shown to improve markers of cardiovascular health thanks to their high antioxidant concentrations. [6,7]

2. Emphasize unsaturated fats

Unlike saturated fats, which tend to raise LDL cholesterol in the blood, unsaturated fats are less likely to contribute to inflammatory plaque build-up in arteries. [8] 

The foods with the biggest heart health benefits appear to be those high in monounsaturated fats (like olives and avocados) and those high in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (like fatty fish, and certain nuts and seeds). [9-11] 

One newly published cohort study found that regularly incorporating fatty fish high in omega-3’s—like salmon, sardines, cod, or trout—can substantially reduce the risk for heart disease. [12]

3. Focus on fiber intake

Foods high in fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can help facilitate the excretion of cholesterol from the body. [13] This helps the body better regulate the concentration of cholesterol in the blood. Foods high in soluble fiber include whole grain oats, apples, kiwi, pears, and mushrooms. Beans and other high-fiber legumes have also been shown to help improve blood pressure and other markers of cardiovascular health. [14]


4. Consider a fish oil supplement

Especially if your intake of omega-3 containing fish is less than weekly, you may want to consider adding a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement to your routine. Fish oil is a concentrated source of the bioactive forms of omega-3: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which help reduce inflammation and boost levels of heart-healthy HDL cholesterol. [15] 

Large prospective studies that compare those who take fish oil supplements to those who do not find that fish oil supplementation is associated with a lower risk of several cardiovascular diseases. [16]

5. Balance high and low intensity exercise

Both high-intensity exercise (HIIT) and low-intensity exercise (like yoga) have been shown to support heart health. Exercise helps the body regulate blood glucose, which can be inflammatory if it stays elevated for prolonged periods of time. 

Consistent HIIT workouts can help strengthen the heart muscle and make it more efficient at moving blood. [17] Lower intensity movement practices such as yoga can also help improve circulation, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. [18] 

For the ultimate heart-strengthening exercise routine, consider incorporating both high-intensity and low-intensity movement into your week.

6. Support your sleep hygiene

Not getting enough sleep is associated with a host of cardiovascular disease risks and mortality. [19] Unfortunately, it’s all too common for sleep to be sacrificed in place of other priorities. According to the CDC, approximately ⅓ of adults reported short sleep duration (less than 7 hours per day) in 2020. [20] 

While there may be some things that are outside your control when it comes to sleep (your work schedule or having a newborn at home, for instance), don’t minimize your own sleep needs for long. Strategies to improve sleep duration and quality include: 

  • Creating a soothing bedtime routine
  • Reducing exposure to blue light (ie. screens) before bed
  • Using black out curtains and brown noise to reduce sleep disruption

Managing Heart Health

What markers can you measure to understand your heart health?

The best way to monitor and understand your heart health is by regularly checking blood biomarkers. Many cardiovascular diseases progress slowly over time and present without symptoms until an individual experiences a cardiac event. Paying attention to blood biomarkers can help you stay ahead of your heart health and identify areas that need improvement well in advance of a medical emergency.

Here are some of the blood biomarkers most associated with cardiovascular health:

  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat that accumulate in the blood when your body has calories it does not need to use for energy right away. Chronically elevated triglycerides can contribute to arteriosclerosis, and can be a sign of other conditions related to poor cardiovascular health like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism, or a metabolic disorder. For most individuals, limiting refined sugar, eating adequate but not excessive calories, and increasing activity can help improve triglyceride levels. [21,22] 
  • LDL Cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol is known as the "bad" cholesterol that can build up in arteries. High levels of LDL cholesterol increase your heart disease risk. You can lower LDL levels and reduce your risk for heart disease by swapping out saturated fats for unsaturated fats and engaging in consistent exercise. [23]
  • HDL Cholesterol: High-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, is known as the "good" cholesterol that helps remove cholesterol from the body and reduces the risk of heart disease. Higher HDL levels are associated with lower heart disease risk. Eating unsaturated fats and exercising regularly can help increase your HDL cholesterol. [24,25]
  • Total Cholesterol: Total cholesterol reflects both your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, as well as triglycerides. While elevated total cholesterol is associated with increased heart disease risk, it does not indicate cardiovascular health on its own. For instance, high total cholesterol related to high HDL and low LDL may not be as dangerous as high total cholesterol related to high LDL and low HDL. [24,25]
  • ApoB: ApoB is a carrier protein on LDL cholesterol, and is a direct measure of the total number of inflammatory LDL particles in your blood. Higher ApoB levels indicate an increased risk for heart disease. Lowering ApoB through lifestyle changes that reduce LDL cholesterol can reduce cardiovascular risk. [26]
  • hsCRP: High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) is a marker of inflammation in the body that is strongly associated with heart disease risk. Elevated levels of hsCRP can indicate chronic inflammation, which promotes atherosclerosis and increases the risk for a cardiac event. hsCRP provides context to other cholesterol markers and can help identify those at highest risk. Lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation can help reduce cardiovascular event risk by lowering hsCRP. [27]
  • TSH: Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) measures the function of the thyroid gland. Elevated TSH indicates hypothyroidism, or a low-functioning thyroid. Cardiovascular risk is elevated with hypothyroidism due to its effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, and cardiac function. [28] Treating hypothyroidism may lower heart disease risk by correcting the metabolic and circulatory abnormalities associated with suboptimal thyroid levels.
  • RHR: Resting heart rate (RHR) refers to the rate at which the heart pumps blood while at rest. Generally, a lower RHR represents a stronger, more efficient heart (although in cases of starvation, a low RHR indicates cardiac muscle wasting and is life threatening). For most individuals, a high RHR may indicate higher blood pressure, higher body mass index, inferior pulmonary function and lower level physical activity, which can negatively impact heart health. [29]

How InsideTracker helps you optimize your heart health

Optimal heart health is a key predictor of a long lifespan—and a long healthspan. Regularly monitoring biomarkers like ApoB, cholesterol, hsCRP and heart rate can give you valuable insight into the health of your cardiovascular system. 

InsideTracker provides in-depth information about your blood biomarker levels, DNA, and wearable devices like fitness trackers. For example, comparing your genetic risk for high ApoB with your current blood ApoB levels allows you to understand whether lifestyle factors are working for or against your genetic predisposition. You’ll also receive evidence-based recommendations on how to improve your biomarkers for optimal health.




  1. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000001123
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34327481/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8903169/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24687909/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7824113
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22648092/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27242317/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943062/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36565850/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9623257/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22051327/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37057185/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24687909/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23089999/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7072971/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31567003/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26489022/
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18227916/
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33441393/
  20. https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2023/22_0400.htm
  21. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19004190/
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16259526/
  23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18061058/
  24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29632463/
  25. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28677496/
  26. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27737874/
  27. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20031199/
  28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35726428/
  29. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19004190/


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