36 things doctors do to protect their hearts

Reader's Digest Editors

Heart disease kills more people than all cancers combined. Here’s how cardiologists and other healers beat the odds in their own lives

1. They eat eggs

“The science clearly shows that a diet without cholesterol doesn’t necessarily lower a person’s cholesterol levels. In fact, when the amount of cholesterol in a food is high, it’s often acting as an antioxidant. Eggs are full of satiating protein and essential fats.”

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of Atrial Fibrillation: Remineralise Your Heart

 

2. They get eight hours of sleep 

“Poor sleep is linked to higher blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. I try to get to bed by 10pm, I don’t watch television right before bed, and I keep my room dark. I also never drink caffeine after 10am, and I avoid alcohol on work nights.”

Jennifer Haythe, MD, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Centre

 

3. They take the stairs

 “Modern conveniences such as lifts and escalators dramatically reduce the amount of exercise we get on a daily basis. To counteract this, I take the stairs at every opportunity.”

Richard Wright, MD, cardiologist and chairman of the Pacific Heart Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre

 

4. They meditate

 “Stress can cause catecholamine release—also known as the fight-or-flight response—and that can lead to heart failure and heart attacks. I’ve found comfort in 20 minutes of meditation daily.”

Archana Saxena, MD, cardiologist at NYU Lutheran Medical Centre

 

5. They do CrossFit

“Exercise blunts the cortisol spike; that’s the rush of stress hormones that have been linked to increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke.”

Adam Splaver, MD, cardiologist and co-founder of NanoHealth Associates

 

6. They’re always finding something to laugh about 

“Seeing the humour in everyday situations helps me to maintain a healthy perspective. The act of laughing dilates the arteries and keeps blood pressure down.”

Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, cardiologist and spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement

 

7. They eat berries

 “Berries contain natural antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and anthocyanins, the pigments that give berries their colour, both of which help the heart. I eat fresh or frozen berries regularly.”

Nitin Kumar, MD, gastroenterologist and expert in cardiometabolic risk at the Bariatric EndoscopyInstitute

 

8. They respect the power of blood pressure

 “In 2015, we did a study that found that lowering systolic blood pressure (the top number) to 120 mm Hg reduced the rates of death due to cardiovascular disease, heart failure, stroke, and heart attack by 25 per cent. It’s important to keep it in check by eating a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Cora E. Lewis, MD, epidemiologist and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine

 

9. They take care of their teeth

“Good oral hygiene can lead to less systemic inflammation. While more research is needed to determine whether or not this decreases rates of heart attacks, having a healthy mouth is important to overall wellness.” 

JULIE CLARY, MD, cardiologist at Indiana University of Health

 

10. They get the flu vaccine every year

 “Getting a flu vaccination is an especially idea good for people with heart disease and heart failure. The vaccine has recently been shown to offer protection against new-onset atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm).”

Jason Guichard, MD, cardiologist in Birmingham, Alabama

 

11. They eat lots of protein 

“Since the heart is a muscle, it needs daily lean proteins. I eat grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish along with heart-healthy olive oil, nuts, and vegetables. And I make a point to avoid meat that contains antibiotics or hormones.” 

Al Sears, MD, anti-ageing specialist and author of 15 books on health and wellness

 

12. They try to schedule exercise

 “I often hear my patients say that they don’t have any free time to exercise or say they had no idea that they had gained weight. This is why I schedule my exercise sessions just as I would schedule a business meeting or any other event.”

STEVEN TABAK, MD, FACC, medical director for quality and physician outreach at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute

 

13. They watch their weight

“About ten years ago, I found myself 40 pounds overweight. I also hadn’t been to a doctor for many years at that time. I made an appointment but not until I went on a diet, joined a gym, and over a year lost weight.” A 2016 study found that being overweight could take one to three years off of your life, while being obese may take as many as eight—and the effect is three times worse for men than for women.

Mark Greenberg, MD, director of the White Plains Hospital Catheterization Lab and medical director of interventional cardiology at Montefiore Health System

 

14. They choose their cooking oils carefully

 “There’s been lots of research into how oils affect our heart health. I avoid products with palm oil and look instead for those with canola oil. Coconut, avocado and almond oils are also good choices.”

Jonathan Elion, MD, FACC, cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Brown University

 

15. They’re on alert for high blood sugar

“In adults with diabetes, the most common causes of death are heart disease and strokes, according to the National Institutes of Health. I avoid junk food, particularly soda, and other foods that lead to high blood sugar and insulin resistance, the precursors to diabetes.”

Richard Wright, MD

 

16. They do intense aerobics

“Frequent, intense, prolonged cardiovascular exercise lowers blood pressure, increases good cholesterol (HDL), reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, and stabilises blood sugar. I try to do a 45-minute session nearly every day.” 

Paul B. Langevin, MD, associate professor in the department of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine

 

17. They skip hot dogs

 “According to a Harvard University analysis, there’s strong evidence for association between the consumption of processed red meats and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Michael Fenster, MD, interventional cardiologist, chef, and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet Is Killing Us

 

18. They spend time outdoors

“Recently I realised I’d been indoors too long, so I prescribed myself a hike! This nature hack relieves stress and allows me to get vitamin D from the sunshine.”

Monya De, MD, MPH, internal medicine physician in Los Angeles

 

19. They eat a Mediterranean diet

“Instead of grabbing crisps when I get home hungry, I slice up half an avocado and drizzle on olive oil. Delicious and filling, this quick snack is part of a Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to be healthier for your heart.” 

Glenn Rich, MD, an internist specialising in endocrinology, obesity, and weight management in Trumbull, Connecticut

 

20. They make time for their loved ones

“Heart disease has been associated with job strain and psychological distress at any point in life—things that friends and family can help with.”     

Jason Guichard, MD

 

21. They ask for a heart scan

“A coronary calcium CAT scan enabled me to determine whether I was developing early heart disease. This test is simple, widely available, and relatively cheap. It can find signs of heart disease before you even feel the symptoms.”

Glenn Rich, MD

 

22. They take a vitamin K2 supplement

“Recent studies indicate that vitamin K2 is critical to heart health. It works by shuttling calcium into your bones instead of letting the calcium clog your arteries. Vitamin K2 may reverse coronary calcification, the disease that causes blockage of your arteries.”

Adam Splaver, MD

 

23. They get tested for sleep disorders

“Sleep apnea, one of the most common sleep disorders, causes you to take long pauses in breathing during sleep. This can starve your organs of oxygen and wreak havoc on your heart health.”    

Adam Splaver, MD

 

24. They drink lots of water

“Drinking five or more glasses of water a day can lower the risk of heart disease death, as dehydration leads to increased hematocrit (the ratio of red blood cells to blood volume) and increased blood viscosity or thickness, both of which have been associated with cardiovascular events.”    

Jason Guichard, MD

 

25. They drink alcohol in moderation

“Moderate drinking can offer protection from heart disease. But if you don’t drink at all, keep it that way. If you drink more than one or two drinks in a single occasion, it can increase your risk of a stroke.”

Samuel Malloy, MD

 

26. They get plenty of vitamin D

“Studies have shown that having low vitamin D levels is a significant predictor of cardiac death, heart attack, and stroke. Low vitamin D is also associated with high blood pressure and blood sugar, which are risk factors for heart disease. Have your doctor check your vitamin D level and supplement up to normal with high doses if needed.”

Nitin Kumar, MD

 

27. They take probiotics

“Probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis have been shown to significantly decrease bad cholesterol and inflammatory markers that may eventually lead to heart disease.”

Nicole Van Groningen, MD, internal medicine physician at UCSF Medical Center

 

28. They know the benefits of a vegetarian diet

“Last year, our cardiology group started a specialised programme for cardiac patients. The outcomes were dramatic so we doctors decided to follow it ourselves. One part involved eating a vegetarian diet for three months. I was surprised at how much better I felt for it.”

Joseph A. Craft III, MD, FACC, cardiologist at the Heart Health Center in St. Louis

 

29. They mix magnesium powder into their water

“If sufficient magnesium is present in the body, cholesterol will not be produced in excess. So I supplement with magnesium citrate powder mixed with water.”

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND

 

30. They practice gratitude

“One study showed that volunteers who focused on feelings of appreciation had increased heart-rate variability, associated with decreased death from cardiac disease. Another study found that patients who kept gratitude journals had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers that could lead to cardiovascular disease.”

Nicole Van Groningen, MD

 

31. They take a herbal sleep aid

“Small doses of melatonin and 5-HTP supplements have been very effective in helping me get to sleep.”

Westin Childs, DO, internist in Gilbert, Arizona

 

32. They eat a “no-white” diet

“I make an effort to stay away from white sugar, white flour, white bread and white rice.”

Adam Splaver, MD

 

33. They practice yoga

“I reduce stress through yoga; it helps me unwind, find balance, and escape for a short time every day.”

Jennifer haythe, MD

 

34. They recommend aspirin, but only for some people

“If you’re healthy, there is no preventive benefit in taking aspirin. But for people who have already experienced a heart event or those with diseased arteries, a low-dose aspirin a day is very helpful at preventing a future heart attack.”

Richard Wright, MD

 

35. They recommend having lots of sex

“Sex is like interval exercise, which is very good for the heart. One easy and fun way to help your heart is to have more sex!”

Richard Wright, MD

 

26. They eat dark chocolate

A 2016 study found that a daily dose of dark chocolate helps prevent diabetes. “It may improve arterial elasticity and help lower blood pressure. Keep an eye out for at least 75 per cent cocoa, and then savour a square or two.”

Cynthia Geyer, MD, medical director of Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts