What you eat makes a major difference in how healthy your heart is, and your odds of developing cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, research shows.Many Americans scored poorly on heart-heat hly diets, according to the AHA. While no single foods can make or break your health, patterns of eating common in the standard American diet, like processed foods and sugary drinks, are linked to worse heart health. Evidence suggests eating more whole, plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can help you get enough nutrients like fiber for a heart healthy diet. Too much saturated fat is also linked to worse heart health, so cardiologists also recommend balancing foods like red meat and full-fat dairy with healthy, unsaturated fat sources like seafood, nuts, and seeds, and protein from lean meats such as poultry. Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart health, according to Harvard Health. Americans also tend to score poorly in exercise habits, the recent AHA research found.You should aim for two and a half hours per week of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both, the AHA recommends. Running is good exercise, but you can also do cardio exercise without running with any activity that gets your heart rate up, including biking, swimming, rowing, or even strength training. Lifting weights can also improve your heart health, and the AHA recommends doing some form of strength training at least twice a week. Walking also counts as exercise, even in small doses, so adding a few short, easy walks to your routine can have big health benefits. As a bonus, short walks throughout the day can prevent you from sitting for long periods of time which is linked to worse health. Along with low scores in diet and exercise, weight is a major factor in why many Americans have poor heart health, according to the AHA guidelines. Body weight is typically measured using body mass index (BMI), or the ratio of height to weight. BMI isn't always a reliable measure of a individual person's health, but it's often used to assess health patterns across the population. Having a higher BMI, in the overweight or obesity range is linked to risks such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and elevated cholesterol levels, combined with other factors such as weight stigma that drive higher rates of heart disease. The AHA recommends managing your weight by being mindful of how much you eat, balancing your calorie intake with enough physical activity, and eating high-volume, lower-calorie foods like veggies, whole grains, beans, and lean meats. Sleep is a new addition to the AHA guidelines, as a growing body of research suggests that regular, high-quality sleep is crucial for all aspects of health.Getting enough sleep helps stave off illnesses, support fitness, improve mental health and focus, and keep your immune system health. A good night's sleep can even help you lose weight, new research suggests. In contrast, skimping on sleep is linked to worse heart health and higher risk, as well as other factors on the AHA list, like cholesterol and blood pressure. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night, neuroscientists recommend. To improve your sleep, practice good nighttime habits such as going to bed at the same time each night and cutting electronics and other stimulating activities out of your late-night routine. Tobacco use continues to be one of the leading causes of preventable death in the US, according to the CDC. Smoking, vaping, and other forms of tobacco all expose your body to toxic chemicals, including nicotine, which is highly addictive and makes it difficult to quit using. Nicotine and related toxins are linked to high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, and increased risk of many cancers, according to the AHA. Even so-called safer forms of tobacco such as vaping may be just as harmful, some research suggests. If you don't use tobacco, don't start, health experts recommend. If you do, stopping tobacco use can improve your health.Strategies such as creating a plan, managing stress, finding social support such as an accountability partner, and creating other healthy habits can help to quit smoking. Cholesterol, a type of fat-like substance, is important for your body to function normally. But too much of it can cause issues for your cardiovascular health, according to the AHA. Cardiologists typically divide cholesterol into two types: HDL or good cholesterol, and LDL or bad cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is linked to potential blockages in blood flow, which can cause health issues, while HDL can help reduce LDL in your blood. Cholesterol can build up your body as a result of getting high amounts of saturated fat through your diet, in animal products like dairy and red meat, according to the AHA. Getting more exercise, eating more fiber, and including unsaturated fats in your diet are strategies to lower your cholesterol levels naturally. Blood sugar can be another important factor in preventing heart health issues like heart attack or stroke. When you eat or drink, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar which enters the bloodstream as the body's main form of energy. But sometimes, blood sugar levels can build up over time, particularly if you have issues with insulin, a hormone your body uses to control blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes occurs when someone becomes less sensitive to insulin over time, resulting in chronically elevated blood sugar (compared to Type 1 diabetes, in which a person doesn't produce enough insulin in the first place). High blood sugar levels from diabetes or prediabetes can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, so it's important to understand your risk, according to the CDC. For meals that help manage your blood sugar, dietitians recommend eating foods with plenty of fiber, protein, and healthy fats to help balance out carbohydrates. Exercise can also help lower blood sugar levels, including casual activity like walking and doing household chores.High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) can be a contributing factor in heart problems such as heart attack and stroke. Your blood pressure is measured by the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats (systolic) over the pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic). An optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80, according to the AHA.High blood pressure is between 130-139 over 80-89, and levels over 140/90 are considered more serious, known as stage two hypertension. Hypertension can damage your blood vessels and cause issues with blood flow, potentially leading to a range of complications from blindness to heart attack. You can lower your blood pressure by improving your diet, getting more exercise and sleep, and managing your stress.