UCLA cardiology expert offers simple tips for heart healthy lifestyle

Living a heart healthy lifestyle is not about doing just one thing. Other steps are important too.

"Diet, exercise and even a positive attitude are all factors that can help you avoid heart disease," says Dr. Sheila Sahni, an interventional cardiology fellow at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

How to get started? Begin with small, incremental changes, Sahni says.

Eat well.
Go for nutrient-rich foods from a wide range of food groups. Focus on eating meals or snacks with high-protein such as white meat, fish, eggs, low-fat milk and soy. Good fats are OK. These include avocado, nuts and peanut butter. Don't forget to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

When it comes to starches, stick to complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans and most vegetables. They'll keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.

The best fish for heart health are firm, fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, halibut and tuna. These have the highest levels of heart healthy omega 3 fats. If you don't like fish, use fish oil supplements.

Limit or avoid certain foods.
Saturated fat and trans fat can increase cholesterol, which can harm your heart. These are commonly found in margarines, partially hydrogenated vegetables fats, processed and fast foods.

Red meats taste great but are associated with worse health outcomes. Choose white meat such as chicken or pork.

Sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grains like white rice, white bread or sweetened cereals are associated with more weight gain and worse health outcomes. Instead, eat whole grain foods such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and oatmeal.

Burn those calories throughout the day.
Exercise is key! Taking the stairs, walking while you're on the phone, parking further away at the shopping center or work can help you get more exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Intensity is defined relative to an individual's capacity, but some examples of moderate intensity activity are walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom dancing and gardening. Some examples of vigorous intensity activity include swimming laps, jumping rope, race walking or jogging, or hiking uphill. Remember that you are in control of how you fit movement into your daily schedule.

Be optimistic!
Optimism has been shown to be associated with better health. Many studies have shown that heart patients with a healthier psychological state have better outcomes. And people with a positive outlook tend to have better health behaviors, which tend to lead to better overall health outcomes.

Know your heart's health.
The best way to know if you're "heart healthy" is to see your doctor for a physical examination to determine any heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of premature heart disease or diabetes.

"Once you know your risk factor profile, you can gauge your health by getting those risk factors under control," says Dr. Gaurav Banka, a clinical cardiology fellow at UCLA. "For instance, if you have high blood pressure and you start to exercise and your blood pressure decreases, you know you're moving in the "heart healthy" direction. Risk factor control and management is the optimum way to care for your heart because it's a preventive measure against heart disease."


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences


  1. Oregon Sage Oregon Sage United States says:

    White meat, eggs and fish oil supplements? Really? Can you supply one scientific, peer-reviewed study that supports this nonsense? And low-fat milk is just watered down milk. It's not healthy. She should be promoting vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Diets that have studies that prove they work. People on plant-based diets have a much lower risk of heart disease. Follow the science, not the dollars!

  2. Lindsey Bashore Lindsey Bashore United States says:

    When has the diet advice this doctor gives for heart patients ever been proven to either stop heart disease or reverse it?  Most of the information is proven to work. But her advice to "Focus on eating meals or snacks with high protein such as white meat, fish, eggs, low-fat milk" is bad advice.  Dr. Dean Ornish UCSF has peer-reviewed published journal articles detailing studies which show the only diet to actually reverse heart disease. He says to never eat those items.  The same with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic, who also has published journal studies using the same diet to reverse heart disease.  When you read dietary advice for treating heart patients, ask "Where are the published studies that show this diet stops and reverses heart disease?"  If a doctor gives dietary advice which only slows down the progression of the disease, you still die from it.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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