10 Easy Steps to a Healthier Heart

Even if you follow just the first seven tips below (and don’t smoke, of course), you’ll reduce the chance of having a heart attack by as much as 90 percent compared to a typical person your age!


  • 1.

    Walk 30 minutes a day every day, no matter what -- and then call someone.

      Walking a half-hour a day decreases the risk of having a heart attack by about 30 percent. I’ve found if you succeed at walking daily, you can also succeed at doing other things to improve health. If you skip, you’ll start compromising health in other ways too. Calling someone every day is crucial; that’s the real commitment. Find a person who’s supportive and will not nag but will call if you haven’t called her. And by the way, it usually is a “her.” Men tend to be lousy at this!

  • 2.

    Know your blood pressure and do whatever it takes to get it down to 115/75.

    Your blood pressure number may be even more important than your cholesterol. And you can lower it yourself. The best way? Getting a little exercise and losing some belly fat. Why belly fat? The omentum is what hangs over the stomach. The fat that’s stored there feeds the kidney, liver and other vital organs. Here’s the hypothesis: When you gain weight, you add fat inside the relatively rigid “kidney capsule.” This fat pushes on the kidney, so it says, “Hey, I need more blood pressure to drive blood through because I’m getting squeezed by the fat.” So it releases hormones that cause increased blood pressure. When you lose a little of that fat, even with just a few pounds of weight loss, your blood pressure goes down really fast. Cutting back on salt may help, but for some people reducing sugar and saturated fat in the diet may help even more. Recently I coached a patient (he’ll be on the PBS special You on a Diet coming in March) whose blood pressure started at 160/100, but he didn’t have any arterial disease. In seven weeks, he had his blood pressure down to 115/75 with just weight loss, walking and decreasing sugar and saturated fat in his diet. But if your blood pressure is over 140/90 and you’re not going to do these things reliably, then you should probably go on blood-pressure medication. New drugs can reduce blood pressure without major side effects.

  • 3.

    Nuts raise HDL good cholesterol and decrease inflammation. But they have a heart benefit independent of those too. We’re not sure why. Nuts have healthy omega-3 fatty acids, healthy protein and some fiber. And this tip is easy to do! Nuts that are raw, fresh and unsalted have the most benefit. You can develop a taste for them if you give them a chance. But if you want to roast, say, (shelled) walnuts, put them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 9 minutes. If you do it yourself, it won’t cause any bad fats or dangerous chemical acrylamides to form.

  • 4.

    Learn your HDL number and do what you can to raise it to 50.

    For women, some believe a high HDL is more important than a lower LDL. We have no idea why, but study after study shows that the higher the number, the better (50 is fine). Easy ways you can increase it: exercise; have one drink a day; eat healthy fats, such as olive and canola oil and nuts. Talk to your doctor about niacin, which raises HDL but can have side effects. Ask, too, about pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, which may also help. While the main function of statin drugs is to lower LDL, some also raise HDL.

  • 5.

    Eat 10 tablespoons of tomato sauce a week.

    This is one of my favorite tips. Tomato sauce is loaded with blood-pressure-slashing potassium. We’re not talking about salty, fatty sauces, or serving with a huge portion of pasta. Keep it simple and healthy, and get a great benefit.

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