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4 tips to improving heart health

February 08, 2024 | UCI Health
A red heart and a physician's stethescope accompany an article on UCI Health doctors' tips to improve heart health.

A healthy diet, regular exercise, restful sleep and routine health checkups are the keys to improving heart health, say UCI Health physicians.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with heart disease, you are not alone. Cardiovascular disease is still the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. men and women across most racial and ethnic groups.

About one in 20 U.S. adults has coronary artery disease, which is the most common form of heart disease and is caused by the narrowing or blockage of vessels supplying blood to the heart, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But making basic lifestyle changes can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and much more, says UCI Health cardiologist Dr. Ali A. Naqvi.

Even the smallest lifestyle changes can make a big difference over time, adds Dr. Ryan Herring, a concierge staff physician at the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health. The institute takes a whole-person approach to heart disease, considering each individual’s biological, behavioral, social and environmental factors.

Understanding which lifestyle changes can make the biggest impact can give you the tools to take manage and improve your heart health, say Herring and Naqvi, who is affiliated with the institute's integrative cardiology program.

The clinicians offer four important tips to help you keep your heart healthy.

1. Nutrition

What we eat is vital for preserving heart health. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend increasing dietary fiber with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They also advise cutting back on high-fat dairy, fatty meat, processed foods and salt.

The heart association advocates following a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes:

  • 4 to 5 servings daily of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy products
  • Lean sources of protein, especially fish and poultry
  • Avoiding saturated fats and trans-fats, processed meats and other processed foods
  • Limiting salt, added sugars, sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates

Simply lowering your daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams or less is particularly beneficial for people with high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, according to the heart association.

2. Exercise

Studies show that getting 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week can improve your heart health.

Ideally, you want to raise your heart rate enough to reach aerobic levels: moderate at 50% to 70% of maximum heart rate and vigorous at 70% to 80%, according to the heart association. The activity should be strenuous, but not so much that you can’t have a conversation. You should be able to speak, but not sing.

While that might sound daunting, aerobic exercise can be as simple as walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week. Regular walks can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease by 19%, according to a study published in Current Opinion in Cardiology.

3. Sleep

Most adults need about seven to nine hours of quality sleep for good health.

Disrupted sleep due to insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and other conditions have been linked to increased cardiovascular disease.

People who suffer from insomnia are 69% more likely to have a heart attack compared to those without insomnia, particularly women, according to a 2023 study reported by the American College of Cardiology.

The greatest risk is among those who average five hours or less hours of sleep per night.

Getting restful sleep often requires optimizing lifestyle behaviors, emotional health and getting treatment for sleep apnea and other relevant medical conditions.

4. Regular check-ups

See your primary care physician or other health provider regularly and alert them to any changes in your health.

Be sure to stay up-to-date on routine screenings, particularly cholesterol and fasting glucose testing, if clinically indicated.

The Samueli institute also offers integrative cardiology medical group visits and cardiac rehabilitation services. For more information, call 949-824-7000.

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