Lifestyle choices and heart disease

How you live and eat can help reduce heart disease.

February 29, 2020


Heart disease is a serious illness that's still all too common in the United States. Fortunately, there are many simple lifestyle changes you can make to feel better and keep heart problems from happening. 

These include:

  • Increase physical activity levels.
  • Lower salt intake. Don’t eat foods high in salt and or add salt to your food.
  • Don’t smoke, chew or vape tobacco products. Tobacco is a major cause of heart disease. It hurts the arteries and makes them more prone to blockages. Evidence also shows that smoking alternatives like vaping are as bad as or worse than smoking.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one to two drinks a few times a week at the most.
  • Get enough sleep. Most people need eight to 10 hours a night. Six hours is the minimum. Lack of sleep raises your risk for heart problems. To improve sleep, try not to use your computer, phone or other screen-based devices at least half an hour before bed. 
  • Manage stress. While you can’t eliminate stress from your life, you can find healthy ways to manage it and feel better. These include exercise, yoga, mindfulness classes and hobbies. Avoid coping with stress in unhealthy ways like overeating, drinking or smoking. 
  • Keep your weight in a healthy range
  • Eat healthy foods. There are many diets out there, all claiming to be the best. One of my favorite sayings is that diets are like politics: You can find information to support whatever you already believe. Below is a basic, common-sense approach to healthy eating.

Eat heart healthy foods

Here are a few things to consider when deciding what to eat.

Eat more fresh foods:

  • Fresh vegetables are good. Fruit in moderation is good. But watch the sugar content.
  • Fresh foods are better than processed foods, which contain more chemicals, salt and fewer nutrients. It’s better to eat foods that spoil after a few days. These foods are less processed and healthier. If you can, eat organically raised food without hormones.

Refined sugar isn’t good for you

This may be the only diet advice that everyone agrees on. I’ve not yet seen the “sugar diet” and hopefully we never will. Refined sugar is an unnatural food, a sweetener and a common ingredient in recipes. You should eat as little of it as possible.

This means:

  • Don’t eat any foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup. It’s an artificial sweetener and a super sugar that isn’t well processed by the body. Because of this, it can hurt your health.
  • Avoid foods that change rapidly to sugar in the body. These include white bread, pasta, white rice and baked goods. Also, avoid soft drinks, especially those with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. But even low sugar or diet drinks are unhealthy.
  • Avoid fruit juices and alcohol, which are high in sugar. The best thing to drink is water, which generally provides all the hydration you need. Many alcoholic drinks are high in carbohydrates and/or sugar. Beer has a lot of carbohydrates, which can lead to a “beer belly.”
  • Try not to eat sugar or white carbs at night. When you eat sugar or starchy carbs, your body needs to burn it right away for fuel or store it. If you eat carbs before bed, your body converts them to fat for storage.

Don’t follow fad diets 

The key to good health is a way of eating that you can live with, not a diet. “Diet” suggests a temporary eating plan that you follow for a while but can’t keep up over time. Then, once you go back to your old eating habits, the benefits of the diet are lost.

Eat two to three meals a day, and limit snacks between meals. If you need a snack, eat a handful of nuts or fruit instead of chips, candy or baked goods. High-sugar foods give you an energy boost that leads to a crash, causing you to crave more sugar.


By Peter Casterella, MD

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.