February 8, 2024

Road to heart health: Living well

You have only one heart. ‘Prescribe’ yourself a few changes to help protect it.

Exercising is just one of the many steps you can take to improve and maintain your heart health.

By making a few lifestyle changes, you can live well and keep your heart healthy, even if you’re at risk for future heart conditions.

Eat heart healthy

Columbus Batiste, MD, regional chief of cardiology for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, says you can improve heart health by increasing your fiber intake, decreasing the amount of salt, sugar, and saturated fats you eat, and eliminating trans fats. Whole, plant-based foods are full of nutrients. Dr. Batiste specifically recommends adding more fruits, vegetables, beans, unsweetened oatmeal, flaxseed, and walnuts to your diet.

Dr. Batiste has also weighed in on some common food conversations.

“Consuming animal protein, particularly red and processed meats, has been associated with increased cardiovascular disease. While limiting saturated fats and eliminating trans fats can reduce your blood cholesterol, don’t be afraid of all fats. Polyunsaturated fats found in whole foods such as nuts, seeds, and avocados can reduce your risk of heart disease if eaten in small amounts,” said Dr. Batiste.

He also recommends reducing your intake of certain foods that people commonly think of as healthy.

“Some people think many breakfast foods like granola, yogurt, and smoothies are healthy, but many processed foods are very high in sugars and are associated with increased cardiovascular disease. Choose foods with minimal ingredients and sugars — even sugars from fruit.”

"If you exercise for 5 minutes several times per day, that’ll add up to 30 minutes before you know it.”

Get a move on

In addition to eating healthier, aim to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Dr. Batiste suggests treating nutritious food and exercise like medication.

“Be intentional about adding healthy food and exercise into your day. Don’t just tell yourself you are going to eat healthy foods or exercise. Prescribe yourself specific foods and exercise. If you exercise for 5 minutes several times per day, that’ll add up to 30 minutes before you know it.”

It’s not all physical

Your mental and spiritual well-being are commonly overlooked factors that also affect heart health. According to Dr. Batiste, stress increases inflammation and blood pressure, impacts your sleep, and can drive you to “stress eat.” You can’t always remove stress from your life, but you can build resilience to counteract its harmful health effects.

“Take a few minutes to meditate, slow your breathing, and practice mindfulness. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Research has shown that people who volunteer have less anxiety and better heart health. A simple act of kindness each day can help you as much as it helps others.”

Change can be difficult, so try making 1 or 2 adjustments at a time to improve your heart’s health and wellness.