A heart attack can change everything. Cardiologists see first-hand how heart disease can sneak up over time and what a difference prevention can make.
Knowing what they know, how do they keep their own heart healthy?
“At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are controlled… and exercise,” Dr. Marc Eisenberg, a clinical cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, tells TODAY.com.
“It’s very exercise-focused,” adds Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and clinical associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
Here are cardiologists’ eight daily habits for a healthy heart:
Walk most days of the week
Both doctors incorporate an exercise routine into their daily life by walking to work.
For Goldberg, it amounts to a roundtrip of about 5 miles a day; for Eisenberg — who lives about 40 blocks away from his office — it’s about a 40-minute walk one way.
Both walk at a brisk pace to get the heart benefits.
“I get my heart rate up when I walk because I walk pretty fast,” Goldberg says. “It’s important for people to do exercises that are natural to them and easy for them to do.”
She also rides a stationary bike at least three times a week, does strength training and mat Pilates.
The goal for everyone is fast walking — or the equivalent, such as bike riding, swimming, using an elliptical machine or jogging — for about 40 to 50 minutes, at least five days a week, Eisenberg adds. It doesn’t have to be continuous so you can break it up into shorter walks or workouts several times a day.
Walking just 11 minutes every day can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 17%, a 2023 study found.
If it’s not realistic to walk to work, walk on your lunch break or park far away from the supermarket when you go shopping, Eisenberg advises.
Cardio is much better for the heart than weightlifting — though strength training has other benefits, he adds.
“But when you go to the gym and you don’t do any cardiovascular (exercise), you’re not really doing much for your heart,” Eisenberg says.
Follow the Mediterranean diet
Neither cardiologist is a vegetarian — both eat chicken and fish, and Eisenberg also eats red meat — but both focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and using olive oil as their go-to healthy fat as part of the Mediterranean diet.
A sample day’s menu for Goldberg includes steel cut oatmeal with raspberries, blueberries and walnuts for breakfast; a salad with grilled salmon for lunch; and a lean protein with vegetables for dinner. Dessert consists of fruit.
Coffee is on the menu, but sweeteners are not.
“My attitude towards sugar is use it sparingly,” Goldberg says. “We don’t put sugar in our coffee. When it’s someone’s birthday, we do have birthday cake, but it’s not a regular thing.”
She doesn’t drink alcohol, while Eisenberg says he has four drinks a week at most.
Give your body a break from eating
Most people don’t need to eat both breakfast and lunch, Eisenberg says, so he combines the two. He waits until 11 a.m. to have a protein-rich snack such as a Greek yogurt, a scoop of tuna fish or a hard-boiled egg.
Such intermittent fasting may offer benefits for the heart, studies have found.
Eisenberg also keeps his weight stable by what he calls “the work diet” where he eats as nutritiously as possible during his work hours Monday through Friday. If someone in the office brings pizza or Chinese food, he skips it.
“They’ll make me happy for like four minutes and I’m back to work stress,” Eisenberg says. “Only eat food when you could enjoy it, like later at night.”
As part of that philosophy, he eats whatever he wants for dinner and whatever he wants on the weekends — though that still means following the Mediterranean diet as much as possible.
Avoid saturated fats
“Foods high cholesterol, like eggs, don’t actually necessarily raise cholesterol levels. It’s really foods that are high in saturated fats,” Eisenberg explains.
The doctors say they avoid bacon, butter, deep-fried foods and whole fat dairy for that reason.
Get adequate sleep
The cardiologists prioritize getting seven to eight hours sleep every night. Sleeping less is associated with high blood pressure and weight gain, Goldberg says.
That’s because levels of cortisol — a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar, metabolism and blood pressure — are higher in sleep-deprived people, leading to weight gain and more abdominal fat, Eisenberg adds.
Weigh yourself regularly
After Eisenberg didn’t step on a scale for four years, he was shocked to discover he’d gained 8 pounds.
“I was a mess. I was so upset. That’s when it forced me to get the 8 pounds off,” he recalls.
He now weighs himself once a week to make sure there are no surprises.
The more overweight people are, the more likely they are to develop heart disease, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute cautions.
Do something every day that relieves stress
“Stress and the heart don’t mix well,” cardiologist Dr. Sandeep Jauhar previously told TODAY.com.
“Everyone is different, so I would encourage people to find what works for them and really pursue it.”
He likes doing aerobic exercise and being in nature. All of the doctors say physical activity is their main stress reliever. Walking home from work at the end of the day and getting fresh air is very relaxing, Goldberg adds.
Have a positive outlook
Goldberg cultivates being optimistic and positive. She says research shows people who have a negative outlook on life have a higher rate of heart disease than their more hopeful peers.
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