How Heart Doctors Stay Healthy

Take some free advice from heart specialists who also lead busy lives

Dog sitting on bed with owner

Taking care of your heart doesn’t have to be complicated. Try to make simple, healthy habits part of your daily routine. Here’s how three heart experts do it.

Choose Good Foods
“Every meal is a chance to do something good for your heart,” says Stephanie Coulter, a cardiologist at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. She makes these recommendations:

  • Fill two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Round it out with beans or other lean protein, like chicken or fish, and a bit of low-fat dairy.
  • Limit red meat to once a week and cut back on sugary treats.
  • Cook with olive oil or another vegetable oil with good fats.
  • Lay off the salt. Keep your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day (about a teaspoon).
  • Be adventurous with herbs and spices once in a while.

Recognize Stress
Understand that stress can increase the risk factors for heart disease, says JoAnne Foody, the medical director of the Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Stress can raise blood pressure and heart rate. It can even affect the flow of blood,” she explains. First, identify what causes your stress. If you can, give yourself a mental break from it. If you can’t get rid of the source, try to tame its effects. Exercise and meditation are proven stress busters.

Enjoy a Good Night’s Sleep
“With the right amount of sleep, people tend to have lower blood pressure and a healthier weight,” Foody says. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a higher heart rate and heart-rhythm problems. Foody has seen patients lose weight and eat better when they start sleeping better as well. If you’re routinely having trouble sleeping seven to eight hours a night, tell your doctor. These tips can prepare you for sleep:

  • Be active throughout the day.
  • Take a walk after dinner but don’t engage in a hard workout.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Spend quiet time reading before bed.
  • Remove all electronic devices from your bedroom.

Work Around Work
Today’s work schedules can make it hard to do what’s good for your heart and health. It's easy to let good habits slide. “If you can’t arrange work to allow more time, at least make the most of the time you do have,” says cardiologist Sarah Samaan, the author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart. Budget time for exercise instead of watching TV, or exercise while watching TV. “You can’t exaggerate how important physical activity is for a healthy heart,” she says. “Even 10 minutes of moderate-intensity activity is good for you. Make it part of your daily routine.”