More of us die from a broken heart than any other ailment; heart disease is the leading cause of death in Canadians over 45. Take time to nurture the most discussed, but least appreciated organ that symbolizes love.

A new study published in Nutrition Journalin December, 2014, adds to the evidence showing a close connection between lifestyle factors and cardiovascular disease. Reduce your risks by taking these five tips to heart.

  1. Use the 5-5-5 rule. Stress is bad for your ticker, and having to make difficult decisions often causes stress. Whenever you’re faced with a decision with several variables, ask yourself three questions: What will the consequences of my decision be in 5 minutes? What will the consequences be in 5 months? What will the consequences be in 5 years? The answers will help you make the right decision for now and future, and to explain your choice to others who will feel its impact. Don’t base too many decisions – whether it’s quitting your job or eating that second piece of cake – on responding to impulsive 5-minute consequences.
  2. Sleep your way to the top. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don’t get enough shut-eye have a greater risk of obesity, high blood pressure and heart attack. If you’re not getting seven to nine hours each night, make sleep a priority: don’t eat dinner or drink alcohol after 8 p.m.; don’t go to bed immediately after watching TV— schedule wind-down time; stretch to relax muscles before bed; while sleeping, make sure you have fresh air, a dark room and no noise. 
  3. Get physical with a friend. Fill two needs with one deed. Spending too much time on your own can affect your mental and heart health. Women in particular are prone to problems such as angina if they have little social support. So take a fun and supportive friend with you to get exercise that increases your heart rate for at least half an hour every day.
  4. Eat your heart out-of-danger. Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) are just as important as oatmeal for heart-healthy soluble fibre and vegetarian protein. Avocado is just as good as olive oil to help your heart: it’s packed with monounsaturated fat; it can lower LDL cholesterol; and it helps heart-healthy nutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene be better absorbed.
  5. Forgive, and forget “perfect.” According to research, hostility has been shown to be the key indicator of what used to be termed the “type A personality,” and this anger may be a better predictor of heart disease than high blood pressure and being overweight. Optimism protects the heart. Forgive by taking 100% responsibility for your actions – and reactions – in every situation.

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