Sometimes it seems like looking after your health is all working out and no play. But protecting your heart isn鈥檛 just about saying no to bacon (occasionally, anyway) and yes to hitting the treadmill. Here are seven fun ways to make your heart happy.

Woman making heart shape with her hands

1. Adopt a pet. Give your dog or cat an extra big cuddle tonight; they鈥檙e helping keep your heart healthy. Dr. Kristamarie Collman, MD, Atlanta-based family medicine practitioner, says, 鈥淪tudies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels, all of which can decrease your risk for heart attacks.鈥 Scientists have found that dog and cat owners specifically are likely to have lower resting heart rates and faster recovery times from stress than people without pets. Thanks, Fluffy!

2. Sleep eight hours a night. A solid sleep routine is good for more than your concentration and memory. Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach in Seattle, WA, explains, 鈥淐onsistently sleeping seven to nine hours will help to protect your heart. A 2017 study of nearly 13,000 adults found that those experiencing poor sleep had a 71 percent higher risk of ischemic heart disease, and a 45 percent higher risk of stroke.鈥 We knew bed was our happy place for a reason.

3. Eat chocolate. That鈥檚 right 鈥 your favorite treat might be good for your heart. A study of over 20,000 participants found that those who ate more chocolate had a lower risk of heart problems. It didn鈥檛 seem to matter whether they preferred dark or milk, although nutritionists usually highlight dark chocolate as a greater source of health-boosting nutrients. Jedha Dening, MNutr, nutritionist and founder of Diabetes Meal Plans based in St Louis, MO, says, 鈥淒ark chocolate has less sugar and a higher ratio of cocoa, which contains antioxidants that can help reduce LDL (鈥榖ad鈥) cholesterol and increase HDL (鈥榞ood鈥) cholesterol, improve the function of arteries, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation.鈥 That doesn鈥檛 mean you should trade in your fruits and veggies for a chocolate bar; it just means that your soft spot for high-cocoa chocolate could also be strengthening your heart.

4. Dance. Break out your inner Beyonc. According to a recent report that looked at multiple studies, taking part in moderate-intensity dancing is better for your heart than walking. Erica Hornthal, Chicago-based dance movement therapist, explains that dancing is good for your mind and your body. 鈥淎erobic workouts like dance increase your beats per minute (BPM) which is shown to increase blood flow and efficiency of oxygenation, and strengthen the heart,鈥 she says. 鈥淔rom a mental health perspective, dancing makes us happy, which reduces the stress that can lead to heart damage.鈥 Line up your favorite tracks and dance like your health depends on it.

5. Eat breakfast. Making time for a morning meal could set you up for better long-term heart health. A study of over 4,000 participants found that those who got less than five percent of their daily calories from breakfast (100 of the 2,000 recommended for women) were more likely to have clogged and damaged arteries than those who ate a high-energy breakfast (over 400 calories for women). This was true even after adjusting for other potentially hazardous habits, like smoking and not exercising. The researchers noted that overall, breakfast fans were more likely to have healthier lifestyles generally. Better bust out that overnight oats recipe this evening.

6. Drink alcohol. Now that the start of your day is heart-healthy, end it right too! 鈥淢oderate amounts of alcohol one drink a day for women are associated with lower risk for heart disease,鈥 says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, MD, cardiologist and medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women鈥檚 Health at NYU Langone in New York. A 2017 study found that women who engaged in moderate drinking (less than seven drinks per week) had a 34 percent decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. But before you pour, note that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans define one alcoholic drink as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits 鈥 that鈥檚 the amount to stick to if you鈥檙e drinking to your health. Goldberg warns, 鈥淗eavy drinking is associated with high blood pressure and can weaken the heart muscle.鈥

7. Laugh. Have you heard the one about how a good sense of humor can help your heart? It鈥檚 no joke! 鈥淟aughter tends to lower blood pressure, but the power of humor goes beyond that,鈥 says Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD, Irvine, CA-based clinical psychologist, adjunct professor in the master鈥檚 program in psychology at Pepperdine University, and former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. 鈥淩esearch has found a significant negative correlation between sense of humor and heart disease; the greater the sense of humor, the lower the risk of heart disease. The emotional response to humor also counters chronic distressing emotions, like depression, anger, anxiety, and stress, which increase the probability of heart attack and the likelihood of arterial wall blockage.鈥 Of course, that doesn鈥檛 mean that someone with heart problems just isn鈥檛 funny enough, but getting a daily dose of humor might be just what the cardiologist ordered.

What cardio activity do you *heart*? Let us know @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)