Sometimes, it feels like doing everything we need to do to stay healthy is its own full-time job. Getting in workouts and making heart healthy meals are great, but how are we supposed to do that while also navigating careers or caregiving? Here are some tips to improve your heart health (and more!) efficiently and easily. Pick one to start with and work on adding or modifying different habits over time. 

Take breaks 

Getting up every so often to stand up and walk around a bit isn't just good for your heart, it's good for your whole body. Research suggests that sitting too long can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Taking a minute to step away can help you learn new skills and improve your mood

The general recommendation is to try to stand up for at least one minute every 30 minutes, but that may not be possible for everyone depending on their situation. Aim for at least one five-minute break every hour if possible. If you need a reminder, try setting a timer, reducing your meeting times by a few minutes, or using a fitness tracker to alert you. 

Stay hydrated 

Heart failure is a condition caused by the heart's inability to pump enough blood through the body, and is more common in older Americans. But drinking enough water can help reduce the risk of developing heart failure in the future. Drinking water helps reduce the sodium levels in the bloodstream, which in turn helps to lower the risk of development of cardiac failure. Staying hydrated can also help keep your mind clear. However, fluid restriction may be needed after developing heart failure to avoid lung congestion. 

Grab your favorite water bottle and fill it up! Make it fun to carry a water bottle by adding your own flair with stickers, or choose one that comes in colors that appeal to you. 

Manage stress as much as possible 

Staying on top of all facets of your life can be stressful, including knowing there are things you're "supposed to do" to maintain your health. But study after study, after study, has shown there is a link between chronic stress and an increased risk of heart disease, among other health concerns, including impaired brain function

We're not talking about the occasional stresses—the fast-approaching deadlines, the time your child forgot to tell you that they needed to take cupcakes to school the next day. Chronic stress is constant, long-lasting stress—and while it may not be entirely avoidable, choosing to do what you can to manage your stress can help not only improve your health, but maybe even improve the situation that is creating the stress. Take a quick mental health walk, do some breathing exercises or a short mindfulness meditation, or reach out for help

Pack heart healthy lunches and snacks 

A healthy lunch not only gives you fuel to make it through the afternoon to quitting time, but it also helps your heart and the rest of your body maintain ideal levels of functioning. It's very easy to grab something from the vending machine or the sandwich shop next door, but it's not that much harder to plan and pack a healthy lunch.

One of the easiest things to do is make an extra serving or two and take leftovers to work. Meals and snacks that follow the Mediterranean Diet or DASH diet mean that you're deliciously boosting your health both at dinner and at lunch. And making sure to take a lunch break means you have time to refocus for the afternoon and maybe work in some stress reduction while you're at it.

Prioritize good sleep habits 

Life is busy and it sometimes feels easy to put off getting to bed in favor of getting things done. However, getting in a good night's sleep—about seven to eight hours for most adults—will give you more energy, help you focus more, improve your mood, and improve your overall health

Making sleep a priority and establishing good sleep hygiene supports all aspects of your health. 

Get in exercise when you have time 

Physical activity is important to heart health—everyone knows this and that's why it's a little further down on this list. But did you know that heart-healthy exercise doesn't have to be a time suck? When we hear the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 30 minutes five days a week, we might think that we have to exercise for 30 minutes every session. And while it's great if you can get your exercise done in one go, you don't have to. 

Exercise snacking, or getting in small amounts of exercise throughout the day that total 30 minutes (or more), is just as beneficial as a full-blown gym session. Use one of your breaks to get in a 10-minute walk—around the block or around the office, whatever is convenient. You don't have to work up a serious sweat either—walk briskly enough to feel your heart rate pick up while you can still talk with a friend or coworker. 

Stop smoking 

Again, this isn't news—smoking is incredibly detrimental to your health, especially your heart and your lungs. If you ever need to have surgery, having smoked before the procedure can lead to complications with anesthesia. Cigarette smoking is also the number one cause of bladder cancer along with many other health concerns. 

Giving up smoking is not easy for most people, but there are some health benefits to even reducing your smoking on your way to quitting. The sooner you can stop smoking entirely, the faster you'll see the health benefits. Try giving up one of your smoke breaks for a walking break or a meditation session. Join a smoking cessation program if you need extra support. 

This isn't just about smoking cigarettes either—studies have shown that THC in marijuana can increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmias and myocardial infarction. Using e-cigarettes has also been shown to increase your risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. 

Just breathe 

Thinking about making a bunch of lifestyle changes can be overwhelming—many of us get locked into "all or nothing" thinking. But making just a few small changes to start can have incredible benefits later in life. One of the easiest changes you can choose is to incorporate some mindful breathing into your day. 

Adding breathwork into your day is great for your heart, your mind, your digestion, and your mood. Feeling stuck on a task at work or stressed about a deadline? Take a quick break to do some breathing exercises. 

We know you're busy. But we also know how a small habit can build up to big rewards over time. Prioritize your health and your heart will thank you. 

For more healthy living tips, visit the Lifespan Living blog. If you are concerned about your heart health talk with your primary care provider

Wen-Chih "Hank" Wu, MD

Dr. Wen-Chih Wu, MPH, is director of the Lifespan Cardiovascular Wellness and Prevention Center at the Lifespan Cardiovascular institute and specializes in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.