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Five tips for a healthier heart

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on and improve our cardiovascular health.
Credit: UT Physicians

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on and improve our cardiovascular health. Cesar Nahas, MD, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon with UT Physicians, shares his top five tips toward a healthier heart and lifestyle.

Improve your diet

Eating foods with excessive salt, saturated fat, and sugar can increase your chances of a stroke or heart attack. However, instead of having a complete diet makeover, Nahas suggests small changes here and there that will benefit you in the end.

“You need to be happy with the way you eat and avoid an extreme diet that you know you will not maintain,” said Nahas, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Try natural products. A good rule is if you read something on a label that you don’t understand, you probably shouldn’t eat it.”

Maintain a sleep schedule

Getting shut-eye doesn’t just help you feel energized the next day, it also helps ease the stress on your heart. Experts agree that most adults require seven hours per night of sleep, during which time the body can repair and recharge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that those who have a history of sleep problems are also at risk for health problems that increase their chances of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.

Experts recommend maintaining a sleep schedule, avoiding artificial light before bed, getting enough physical activity during the day, and avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine for an optimum night’s rest.

Stay active

Regular physical activity has a multitude of benefits for your body, including your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 70 minutes of higher intensity workout, such as running or cycling. Muscle strengthening is important as well.

“Your age and how in shape you are will determine how much you can do, but the idea is to do something,” said Nahas.

Stay on top of medical problems

Seeing a doctor regularly can help to establish where you are in your health care journey and assess your risk for heart disease. If you have been diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, neglecting doctor’s appointments can have devastating long-term consequences.

Those with a family history of heart disease, especially if it occurred at an early age, should be aware of their risk factors.

Nurture your relationships

Love can make you happy…and healthy. Having caring and fulfilling relationships in your life can improve your cardiovascular strength. A simple hug has been known to reduce blood pressure.

“We are not meant to live isolated, and our social support system is essential,” Nahas explains. “Our overall well-being is affected by how we feel about ourselves and the people around us.”

Further suggestions

If heart disease runs in your family, Nahas suggests establishing routine care with a doctor sooner rather than later to identify any potential problems. Typically, early detection of heart issues can lead to more treatment options for a patient.

For more information on the experts at UT Physicians and how they can help you or your loved ones, call 888-4UT-DOCS or visit our heart and vascular care page.