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Four Tips to Help Increase Your Heart Health Today

From Staying Social to Having a Pet, Cedars-Sinai Cardiologist Offers A Range of Tips to Keep Your Heart at Its Best

With Heart Month in full swing, cardiologist Robert Siegel, MD, the interim director of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute, offers four tips to keep your heart healthy.

"A heart healthy life is not a limiting one," said Siegel, who also serves as S. Rexford Kennamer MD Chair in Cardiac Ultrasound. "By being more mindful of your activity, social interactions and food intake, you can truly improve your wellbeing and enhance your longevity."

Siegel's tips for keeping your heart healthy, one beat at a time:

  • Stay active – While a sedentary lifestyle increases your cardiovascular risk, aerobic exercise lowers harmful cholesterol levels, normalizes blood pressure and enhances longevity. One of the best things you can do for your heart is to be active. Siegel says research studies show for every 1,000 steps taken, there is a 6 percent reduction in mortality. Moreover, people who are physically active for more than 60 minutes a day have a greater likelihood of living into their 90s.

But if aerobic exercise isn't for you, engage in other activities such as gardening, bowling, yoga, walking, swimming, ping pong or even housework. Consider utilizing monitoring devices to track these activities, your total daily steps and time spent standing versus sitting.

  • Go social – Studies show that regular social activities reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. In fact, Siegel said people who report being lonely and isolated have a 30 percent increased risk of cardiovascular mortality. So, this Heart Month, Siegel advises, call up an old friend, make a date and spend special time with the people in your life.

In addition to traditional companionship, Siegel said there are also benefits from animal companionship, especially from dogs.

"Dogs have a substantial effect on increasing our exercise activity and reducing cardiovascular risk," said Siegel, "Even owning a cat, which usually has no effect on physical activity, offers companionship that helps to lower our risk of heart attack and stroke."

Heart Month Update: Four Tips for Living a Heart Healthy Life.
  • Eat mindfully – Food plays a vital role in heart health but that doesn't mean you have to eat boring and bland dishes. Try spicing up your foods with chili peppers, which contain a substance called capsaicin that is good for the heart. Turmeric is another spice that is heart-healthy.

Siegel noted that the best cardiovascular survival is in those individuals who follow plant-based diets, which have proven effects on lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels and longevity. The Mediterranean Diet, which focuses on a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, seafood and mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil, reduces cardiovascular risk roughly 20 to 40 percent. This substantial risk-reduction rivals standard pharmacologic therapy for coronary artery disease.

  • Drink mindfully, also – Research shows coffee has surprising benefits and those who drink three to five cups per day have a lower incidence of heart-related conditions. Need even more of a reason to grab a cup of joe? Coffee drinkers have a 20 percent reduction in stroke, heart attack and death from heart disease. Green and black tea also have a multitude of health benefits, thought to be due to antioxidant effects. Drinking tea without milk has been shown to result in better function of arteries and enhance longevity compared to non-tea drinkers.

Mild-to-moderate alcohol intake reduces cardiovascular events like stroke, heart attack and death, but heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancer and liver disease as well as increases the risk for traumatic injuries, Siegel said.