You want to take better care of yourself and your heart, but the words “heart-healthy” alone may not be enough motivation for you to cut back on the cookies and climb on board the elliptical.

If you need more specific reasons, start here: making heart-smart lifestyle changes nets very tangible benefits, and the effects are cumulative. Heart-health recommendations, such as eating healthfully, being active, and taking your prescribed medications, build on each other for more long-term benefits.

Here are seven reasons to stay heart-healthy:

  1. You’ll live longer. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women, yet heart disease is one of the most preventable chronic conditions. Staying heart-healthy increases longevity. If you have heart-health risk factors, such as high cholesterol, taking the medications you need for better heart health translates into added years.
  2. You’ll be a vital part of your children's and grandchildren’s lives. A healthy heart means enjoying activities with your children and being able to chase your grandchildren around without the huffing and puffing from a tired ticker. If you keep a healthy weight, don’t smoke, and stay active, you can keep up with the little ones—at least most of the time! 
  3. You’ll save money. As a nation, the United States spends $444 billion every year on heart disease and stroke. By some estimates, $1 of every $6 spent on healthcare goes toward heart disease and stroke care. Researchers also know that if you have problems paying for medications and doctor visits, you’ll be less likely to take the steps needed for heart health. So do everything you can to avoid heart disease—you’ll be able to put the money you save toward enjoying life more.
  4. You’ll feel better. Heart disease makes it hard for you to get around comfortably. You might experience problems like fatigue and shortness of breath—signs that your heart is not working as well as it should. Some of these symptoms can be relieved with medications, but taking steps in the right direction, such as exercising, eating well, and maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid them from the start.
  5. You’ll protect your brain. Researchers now know that heart disease risk factors can lead to more than heart disease: Cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease are also on the list. So a healthy heart can also bring the bonus of a healthy brain. You’ll also be reducing your chance of having a stroke, which can take away cognitive function as well as speech and movement.
  6. You’ll protect your hearing. Loss of hearing as you age appears to be linked to heart disease risk factors and events, such as a sudden heart attack. Taking care of your heart means that you’re protecting the blood vessels that support your ears, so you’re likely to protect your hearing longer as well.
  7. Your sex life will stay vibrant. Researchers have found that people’s sex lives can be negatively affected by poor heart health—not just from heart disease, but also from risk factors for heart disease, such as being overweight or having high blood pressure. Keep your blood flowing well, and you're more apt to enjoy sex for years to come.

This article is part of a series of heart health articles produced for the Healthgrades Pledge for Heart Health campaign. The Pledge for Heart Health campaign is a Facebook application that asks people to virtually pledge that they’ll talk to their doctor about heart health. For each pledge received in the month of February 2013, Healthgrades will donate $1 to the American Heart Association (up to $10,000).