Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH
Heart disease is one of the most significant public health concerns in the United States, affecting men, women, and all racial and ethnic groups, with some populations disproportionally affected.
There’s really no secret to better heart health. If you’re wondering what steps you can take to improve your heart health, here are six simple tips from one of the leading experts, Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH, the new Director of Mount Sinai Heart, who leads the educational, research, and clinical cardiovascular work of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Mount Sinai Health System.
“A healthy lifestyle goes a long way to reducing the risk of heart disease and, as it turns out, also reduces the risk of things like diabetes and cancer,” says Dr. Bhatt who joined Mount Sinai from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital Heart and Vascular Center.
Here are Dr. Bhatt’s suggestions for improving your heart health.
The best thing to do to improve heart health is to maintain a good diet. I endorse a plant-based diet, which means one that has lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains. It doesn’t have to be vegetarian, but it can be. You should avoid red meat if you can, or at least limit how much red meat you eat.
Work Up a Sweat
Daily exercise is important. You don’t need a rigorous exercise routine at the gym. For people who don’t really like to exercise, I’m talking about any vigorous physical activity. It can be 30 minutes of brisk walking—ideally something where you work up a sweat. Or it can be something you really enjoy, like gardening. Any physical activity is better than none, even if it’s just a matter of parking your car further from the store or your office and walking a bit more, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Those little doses of exercise can add up over a lifetime.
Eat Well, But Not Too Much
Maintaining a good weight is important. The natural tendency is to put on weight. Even an extra five or 10 pounds can increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, which in turn increase the risk of heart disease and other medical problems. And taking off even small amounts of weight can make a difference.
This one may surprise you. Sleep is very important. It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep these days. Everyone’s got a busy chaotic lifestyle, it seems. Proper sleep can help you maintain a normal weight and reduce mental stress. A recent study showed that people who slept less than the recommended amount had higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Insufficient sleep doesn’t get the respect it deserves as a cardiovascular risk factor.
I encourage you not to start smoking, and to stop if you are smoking. Smoking raises the risk of heart disease and cancer probably more than any other single factor. It’s not just cigarettes and cigars. It includes vaping, which is really catching on among young people, and marijuana. Some may not be happy to hear that. But the reality is that all these forms of smoking raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Know What to Do if You Suspect a Heart Attack
If you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. You should call if you are having significant chest discomfort. Don’t tough it out at home. Don’t decide you’re going to drive yourself to the hospital. Don’t ask your spouse to drive you. If your heart should stop beating, blood will stop flowing to the brain, and in just a few minutes the lack of oxygen can cause significant damage. You should also consider taking a basic CPR course. These simple chest compressions can keep the blood flowing from the heart. You might also want to take notice of where you could find an automated external defibrillator (AED), say in your office, at school, or when you are traveling. These simple devices can determine if someone has an abnormal heart rhythm and deliver an electric shock to restore the rhythm to normal. The devices have very simple instructions and can talk you through what to do.