Heart Smart Tips from a Cardiologist

Posted: Mar 03rd 2023
Categories: Cardiology

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. We asked a cardiologist for their take on how to better protect our hearts.

There are many ways to keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for people to unknowingly be living with heart disease. Cardiologists commonly recommend eating a healthy diet and exercising daily. But what makes a diet “heart healthy” and how much exercise is enough?

We asked cardiologist Jinhwa Song, MD for her take on how to incorporate heart smart tips into your daily routine, and answer some commonly asked questions about heart disease.

Question: What does a “heart healthy” diet consist of?

Dr. Jinhwa Song: DASH diet and Mediterranean diet are both heart healthy diets, they share similar characteristics in that they encourage more intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Q: How much more likely is someone to develop heart disease if a family member already has it?

JS: If you have a family history of heart disease, you are more likely to develop heart disease yourself. The more family members with the disease all increase the likelihood of you developing the disease. For example, if you have a father, a brother and a sister who had heart attacks in their 30 to 40’s, that would increase the odds of you having a heart attack compared to someone who had one grandfather who had his heart attack in his 80’s.

Q: Are chocolate and wine really considered heart healthy?

JS: Everything in moderation would be the answer. Antioxidants in dark chocolate may improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and protect against high cholesterol. However it is also loaded with sugar and calories. Red wine also has antioxidants. Federal guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend that if you drink alcohol, do it in moderation. That means no more than one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Q: How much exercise do you recommend someone get each week to lower risk of a heart attack?

JS: At least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a day for at least 5 days a week is recommended. Most people do not achieve this goal, it is easy to become sedentary and we tend to overestimate our activity level. It can be a daunting goal to achieve 150 minutes of exercise a week for someone who has been sedentary for years, but I recommend my patients to start somewhere and work at increasing exercise time at their own pace. For someone who does not like exercising, I find it hard myself to exercise 150 minutes a week but I continue to try to do what I can because I see the benefit of regular exercise over the long term in my patients.

Q: What is an easy way people can incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets?

JS: I think an easy way would be to divide your plate in sections, so that fruit and vegetables should fill half the plate. The other fourth of the plate should be carbohydrates, and remaining fourth protein.

Q: If someone doesn’t have a family history of cardiovascular disease, should they still see a cardiologist?

JS: It depends, if you have cardiovascular disease, I think you should see a cardiologist regardless of your family history. If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease but no cardiovascular disease yourself, and you have a lot of cardiac risk factors, it would help to sit down with your primary physician or cardiologist to identify your cardiac risk factors and make sure the risk factors are controlled. I like the quote “we can not change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”. We can not change our genetic predisposition, but we can lower our chances of getting cardiovascular disease by targeting our risk factors and controlling them.

Jinhwa Song, MD

Cardiology, Cardiovascular Disease, Nuclear Cardiology, Echocardiology

If you aren’t regularly exercising or eating healthy foods, the thought of drastically changing your current lifestyle can be daunting. Making those necessary modifications can make all the difference in your chances and risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.

A heart disease diagnosis is not a death sentence. Likewise, having a family history of heart disease does not mean you are genetically doomed. Many people with heart disease live long lives by managing their cardiac health by making positive lifestyle changes. Eating a consistent diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein, and getting 30 minutes of exercise a day could add years to your lifespan.