5 Heart-Healthy Habits to Start This Year

Peter Fattal, MD, Interventional Cardiology

February is American Heart Month. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but many cardiac events are preventable. Peter Fattal, MD, interventional cardiologist at Ascension St. Joseph Hospital offers several tips to take control of your heart health in 2023.

 Tip 1: Know and Monitor Your Heart Health

Start developing healthy habits by knowing where you stand with your heart health. Schedule your regular physical exam with your doctor and monitor your weight, BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and other factors that could contribute to heart problems. Then, keep a log of these factors, your physical activity and diet to stay informed on your progress and hold yourself accountable. This way, you can set healthy goals for yourself and treat issues as they arise.

 Tip 2: Avoid Excessive Stress

 Stress is a normal part of life. But too much stress, prolonged and unchecked, can contribute to heart problems. It can contribute to constriction of blood vessels, high blood pressure and increased risk of a heart attack and stroke. One significant way to reduce stress is to exercise regularly. Cardiovascular conditioning, strength, flexibility and balance are all important to maintain optimal health. Whether a brisk walk, yoga or a fitness class, exercise is proven to enhance both heart health and mental health. Other outlets for stress relief include gardening, reading, meditation or listening to music.

Tip 3: Focus on Moderation

Alcohol consumption is often linked to heart problems, and has been specifically shown to increase the risk of a common irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation (or AFib). An observational study published in the European Heart Journal found that drinking even just one glass of wine or beer per day led to a 16 percent higher risk of developing AFib (compared to not drinking). This is concerning, because AFib increases risk for stroke, heart failure and cardiac arrest. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a long day, but remember — everything in moderation. In general, less alcohol intake is better for cardiovascular health, particularly if you have underlying medical issues, and exceeding two drinks in a day is never heart healthy.
Tip 4: Stick to Healthy Eating Habits
 Try to limit foods that are too salty, such as canned or processed foods. Also limit high-fat foods, such as red meat, cheese and baked goods. When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, the important thing is to maintain balance. A Mediterranean-style diet high in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains has been shown to promote weight loss and reduce heart disease risk.
Tip 5: See a Doctor Regularly
Scheduling regular visits with your primary care doctor and any specialists you see can help catch problems sooner rather than later, which can be lifesaving in some cases. If you experience high blood pressure or high cholesterol, make doctor’s visits a priority to keep a close eye on your heart health.
Tip 6: Make a Plan You Can Keep
A new year brings a great opportunity to reprioritize your health, but remember, there are no quick fixes. Make sure to work with your doctor to create a plan you can stick to.
At Ascension hospitals in the mid/north region of Michigan, our teams of primary care doctors and cardiologists can provide you with the most effective screening methods to check for heart disease and other conditions.
Dr. Peter Fattal is an interventional cardiologist serving Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital, Ascension Standish Hospital and Ascension St. Joseph Hospital. For more information about heart health, visit ascension.org/MichiganHeart or call 989-754-3000.