Five Heart Healthy Habits

Healthy older couple jogs together as they prioritize exercise for heart health as recommended by electrophysiologist Dr. Andrea Tordini.

Many patients coming to our office with chest discomfort, the feeling of a racing heart, feeling that their heart is pounding out of their chest, and more are experiencing atrial fibrillation or AFib. AFib has several potential causes, some of which cannot be modified, like age, genetics, or congenital issues. Other underlying causes of AFib can be modified and these include lifestyle change. In fact, evidence is pointing to a lack of a healthy lifestyle as a leading factor for the development of AFib.

If lifestyle issues are part of the problem, then improving one’s habits is certainly part of the solution. Even if improving your heart health does not eliminate AFib, it certainly sets the stage for longer-term heart health, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life or minimize the effects of existing cardiovascular problems. Further, generally good heart health can make any heart procedure, including our minimally invasive arrhythmia treatments, more successful and safer.

Below, we discuss five heart healthy habits that you can begin today to improve your heart health tomorrow and beyond.

Exercise. You know that exercise plays a role in heart health because of the way that your heart acts when you perform it. Exercise is key to keeping the heart muscle in great shape. Just like you would any other muscle in your body, your heart needs to be conditioned and cardiovascular training does just that. With that said, many patients who experience other cardiovascular issues may have difficulty performing strenuous exercise. Or, their cardiologist may have told them that some exercises are not appropriate for their condition. That’s OK. Even a half hour to one hour walk each day can make a significant difference in your heart health. As you can perform more strenuous activity do so, of course always under the guidance of your cardiologist

Improving your diet. Unfortunately, the typical American diet is not all that healthy, and this is reflected in the high and increasing rates of obesity and excess weight in the United States. Fortunately, changing your diet is one of the easiest things to do and can be done right away. Think about the most egregious diet busting habits first. Going to restaurants, eating fast food, drinking alcohol or sugary drinks, choosing processed foods from the grocery store. All of these contribute to excess saturated fat, calories and sugar in the diet that can cause serious heart issues over the long term. While we don’t expect you to become a gourmet chef overnight, combining a healthier diet with exercise mentioned above, can do wonders for your heart health within as little as a few days.

Drinking plenty of water. Believe it or not, the amount of water you drink, and your hydration status, makes a significant difference in your heart health. As you become dehydrated your blood vessels contract and your heart must pump harder to get blood around the body. The result? High blood pressure. Just like any other muscle, overworking your heart can cause it to grow and lose strength over the long term. Staying hydrated with 64 or more ounces of water each day is critical to helping avoid premature heart failure.

Sleep plays a critical role both in heart health and general health. Everybody needs to recharge and getting enough sleep each night – between seven and nine hours depending on your natural rhythms – is a big part of that. Lack of sleep can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. And don’t think that you can develop a sleep deficit during the week and sleep it off on the weekend. It doesn’t work like that. Even a few hours of missed sleep every week can have one long-term ramifications. If you are suffering from a cardiovascular condition that causes you to sleep poorly, or sleep apnea, speak to your doctor about a sleep study and subsequent treatment.

That leads us to the final and incredibly important piece of advice, which is to see your doctor if you’re having any concerns about your heart. Of course, if you’re having emergency, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room immediately. However, if you are feeling abnormalities in your heart or anywhere in your body, seeing the appropriate specialist is an important part of getting treated and improving your long-term health prospects. As an example, AFib often starts as paroxysmal or occasional. Some patients brush it off because it seems relatively mild. However, AFib is a progressive condition, meaning that it gets worse over time. What is very occasional today can become more pronounced and eventually persistent if left untreated. As the condition worsens, the success rates and options for treatment start to diminish. For any heart related issues that you may have, please visit your cardiologist or a heart rhythm specialist like Dr. Tordini.

The bottom line

While the heart keeps your whole body running in sync, we often forget that its health needs to be prioritized. Oftentimes we worry about the other muscles in our body – making ourselves look better in the mirror, but the most important muscle of all is left to deteriorate. Be sure to incorporate the heart healthy tips above and speak to your cardiologist or electrophysiologist about the status of your heart and how you can improve your long-term heart health.

Dr. Tordini is a part of Florida Medical Clinic in Tampa

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