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We Asked Two Cardiologists for Their Top Heart Health Tips

By Sophie Harris
March 20, 2024

We don’t spend much time thinking about our hearts, as vital as they are. To change all that, we asked two experts for practical steps we can take every day to care for our hearts.

“As a vital organ, heart disease or stroke can lead to sudden death or an extremely limited life due to constraints from heart disease,” says Indianapolis-based cardiologist Mohammad Marashdeh, MD. “I believe that not enough people are paying attention to how central their heart is to their well-being.”

The good news is, you may already be taking steps to support your heart without realizing it. Here are the doctors’ top tips for protecting your heart.

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1. Take a heart risk test

Dr. Marashdeh says that all adults over 40 should undergo an assessment with their doctors called the ASCVD risk score. This test assesses all elements of your lifestyle, genetics, habits, and more to provide you with a calculated risk of heart disease in your lifetime. Your score will tell you how aggressively you need to work on your heart health.

Why is this test so important? Because heart disease can impact anyone, Dr. Marashdeh says. Many people may have underlying heart conditions they aren’t aware of, and they can impact you when you’re least expecting it in many ways — the most severe case being a serious stroke or fatal heart attack.

2. Consider other health conditions

“A lot of people will say ‘I don’t have heart disease,’” Dr. Marashdeh says. “But do they have conditions like sleep apnea? High cholesterol? Is their weight a problem? What about diabetes? These are all considered risk factors for heart disease, and even if you’re not aware of a heart condition today, these factors can significantly contribute to very serious heart problems down the line.”

Patients with risk factors or precursors to heart disease should get the ASCVD test as soon as possible, along with adopting heart-healthy habits in their diet and exercise routines. “If early risk factors aren’t assessed in your 20s and 30s, they can very quickly ramp up to lead to heart disease at a very young age,” Dr. Marashdeh warns.

3. Check your diet

For better heart health, Dr. Marashdeh suggests a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and lean protein. Studies show that antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can have a protective effect on your heart and promote healthy circulation. Keep trans fat, processed meat, refined carbs, and sugar to a minimum. Dr. Marashdeh recommends incorporating healthy sources of potassium, like avocados and sweet potatoes. And be conscious of your sodium intake, too.

Jonathan Purnell, MD, who leads Oregon Health & Science University’s Center for Preventive Cardiology, suggests moving away from diets that focus on a single macronutrient, like “low fat” or “keto” diets, and instead adopting a more balanced approach. He recommends eating locally grown foods, and organic when possible, because they’ll be more nutrient-dense.

4. Manage stress

Dr. Marashdeh sees many patients who are under daily stress, and here’s what he wants you to know: Too much stress can lead to high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Studies suggest that exposure to long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure — all of which impact your cardiovascular health. Managing stress can take a lot of different forms (such as deep breathing, gentle yoga, spending time outside, and meditation); find one or two that you can incorporate into your daily life to keep stress in check.

Read next: The Science-Backed Technique That Can Calm Your Anxiety in Under 5 Minutes

5. Get some shut-eye

Did you know that sleeping fewer than six hours per night can raise your blood pressure the next day? The American Heart Association warns that lack of sleep can contribute to heart-health busters like obesity, predisposition to diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. In fact, people who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night are at a 20% higher risk for heart attacks.

Sleep is involved in many regulatory processes in the body, and without it, your cells and the immune system simply can’t repair themselves the way they need to. Give yourself a nighttime routine to help you wind down, turn off electronics and hour before bed, and sleep in a cool, dark room to improve sleep. Dr. Marashdeh recommends getting checked for sleep apnea if you struggle with sleep or breathing at night because sleep apnea is closely linked to stroke risk.

Related: 7 Signs You’re Sleep Deprived (and How to Fix It)

6. Hit the gym

Dr. Marashdeh recommends at least 75 minutes of very vigorous exercise, such as running, per week, or 150 minutes of more moderate exercise, like lifting weights or walking. Though 150 minutes may sound like a lot, it’s actually just 30 minutes 5 days a week. Exercise keeps the heart muscle strong and healthy, which improves circulation and oxygen output, while it reduces your risk for high blood pressure and stroke. Exercise also can help you manage stress.

Dr. Purnell warns against sitting all day at work. “Technology has changed our work environments to tie us to our stationary computer desks,” he says. Many people who work remotely struggle to separate work from life, so stepping away from the computer is even more challenging. Taking frequent walks throughout the day, committing to a gym routine, or even purchasing a treadmill desk can help you stay active.

Read next: The Best Heart Healthy Frozen Dinners, Says a Dietitian


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