5 Heart-Healthy Habits

Simple and practical preventive practices to keep your heart strong

An internal medicine physician from Scripps Health in San Diego offers the top five tips to preventing heart disease.

Prevention is the key to keeping your heart in top shape and pumping the way that it should. Reyzan Shali, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center, Vista, has some ideas to help you make sure your lifestyle is heart-healthy.


1. Make exercise a regular part of your life.
“Your heart is a muscle, and just like pecs or abs, it needs to be worked out consistently to stay strong,” says Dr. Shali. Doing aerobic exercise most days of the week for 30 to 60 minutes will help keep your heart working as efficiently as possible. If you’re looking to lose some weight, add some light weight training for an additional metabolic kick.


2. Keep your diet in balance.
Meals aren’t just fuel; food can be medicine. According to the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, established by the Food and Drug Administration, eating right for your heart means building meals on a foundation of whole grains, fruits and veggies, adding low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts to round out your diet. Limit or avoid red meat, processed foods and foods high in sodium. Remember to drink plenty of fluids every day, and consider adding green tea if you enjoy the taste. Certain foods and some dietary supplements may help to decrease inflammation and cholesterol, and improve high blood pressure. These include artichoke, garlic, fish oil, magnesium, coenzyme Q10 and fiber.


3. Keep your blood pressure in check.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor when it comes to heart disease. If you can keep your blood pressure within a healthy range, that will reduce strain on your heart and arteries. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will help keep your blood pressure in check.


“Limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco smoke are also important when it comes to managing blood pressure, as well as managing stress,” says Dr. Shali. Try incorporating meditation techniques through activities such as yoga and tai chi for stress management.


4. Work on losing weight if you need to.
Don’t let a few excess holiday pounds linger, Dr. Shali advises. Carrying around too much weight puts you at a higher risk for many health problems, including heart disease. Come up with a smart and realistic weight loss plan, approach it systematically, stick to your plan, and most importantly, when you’ve reached your goal, create a vigilant maintenance plan so you won’t have to go through the process all over again.


5. Get enough regular sleep each night.
Good quality sleep is essential to health and well-being. Your heart is significantly impacted when your body doesn’t get enough sleep—just as your body needs rest, so does your heart. Most people need six to eight hours of sleep each day. If you’re having problems falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor to rule out medical causes of insomnia.