Read the myriad of articles on whether long-distance running and cycling helps or hurts the heart, and you are likely to come away more confused than before you started. Despite the conflicting information available, there are some basic ideas everyone can agree on. Here are some tips on being smart heart-healthy.

Exercise. But How Much is Healthy?
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, each week. But, what about more? While the research is not completely clear, studies have found that people engaging in three to five times the recommended minimum of physical activity had the best survival rates. Just as importantly, no harm has been found for those choosing to do 10 or more times the minimum amount.

John Hopkins has published a list of the three types of physical activities that boost heart health, and they include aerobic exercise, resistance (strength) training, and stretching, flexibility and balance workouts.

Gradual Progression is Always Best
Design a training program that is gradual. Increase your mileage and physical stress over time. Don’t start with a 10k. Do a 5k first. Do a 35, 50, and 65 mile bike ride before tackling a century. Not only will this approach decrease your chance of injury, it will help you be more successful, since you are more likely to continue with the fitness program you adopted. Also, make sure to plan recovery runs and rides. They are important.

Heart-Health Check Up
It is important to talk to a doctor before taking on new, longer events. Most health issues associated with the heart, during and after events, are the result of preexisting conditions. Getting a heart-health check can help you determine the best way to ramp up your mileage in the safest way possible. You should let your doctor know if you have any symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, or a family history of heart disease.

Cut Back on Added Sugar
The average intake of sugar for American’s is about 19 teaspoons per day. Way too much. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to a maximum of half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. That equates to about 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons, for woman, and 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons, for men. A recent study showed that people who ate the most sugar had a higher risk of death from heart disease, even if they weren’t overweight. Added sugar is the sugar that you put into food that normally doesn’t have it. Like adding sugar to your tea or coffee. It is much more healthy to consume natural sugar, like what you would find in a banana or apple.

Reduce Your Intake of Animal Fats
Animal fats and animal proteins have been linked to elevated cholesterol and elevated heart risk. Eat animal byproducts in moderation and it will make a big difference. Try to add more monounsaturated fats into your diet since they are great for your heart, this includes avocados, certain nuts, salmon, and olive oil. Don’t forget to add lots of vegetables to every meal.

Calm Your Stress
It’s not shocking, but stress can increase your risk of heart disease. In fact, studies have showed that the effects of stress on our body can be as bad as unhealthy physical activity, like eating excess sugar, drinking and smoking. Chronic stress puts our bodies into a constant fight or flight mode, and it can trigger inflammation, high blood pressure, and unhealthy changes. Try to reduce stress by meditating, deep breathing, and yoga. As a side benefit, some of these activities, such as yoga, can improve circulation and blood pressure, which can lower the risk of heart disease.

Tip the Bottle Less, and Watch the Scales More
Everyone likes a good drink, but heavy drinking is not good for your body. Drinking can weaken heart muscles and cause irregular heart rhythms, as well as leading to other health problems. The same is true of excess weight, which can put unnecessary stress on the organs of the body, including the heart, and can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. Find a diet that works for you and stick with it.