4 Everyday Things to Keep Your Heart Healthy

12092Ashley Lewis, MD, FACC, RPVI, is a cardiologist at UNC REX Healthcare. She is board certified in general cardiology and is registered in vascular imaging. She is a general cardiologist with interventional training and has specific interests in coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, congestive heart failure, peripheral artery disease and heart disease in women. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

For many of us, we start our days off with a casual morning routine that is usually shaped by the habits we adapt over time. When it comes to improving your health, Dr. Ashley Lewis says the first step is to make healthy lifestyle choices every day. In honor of Heart Health Awareness Month, Dr. Lewis explains four important habits we should focus on to maintain our heart heath.


  1. Get up and move! – Studies show that sitting for long periods of time increases your risk for heart disease. The Statistic Brain Research Institute reveals that 49 percent of Americans watch up to five hours of television a day. However, by getting the right amount of physical activity, you can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by about 30 percent. Dr. Lewis recommends that you exercise 30 minutes a day for five days a week (a total of 150 minutes per week) with a moderate-intensity aerobic workout. Some examples of moderate-intensity activities include, brisk walking, jogging, biking or swimming.

    “Five days per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in addition to light weight lifting or resistance training two times per week leads to weight loss, lower blood pressure, decreased blood sugars, decreased cholesterol levels, and stress,” Dr. Lewis says.
  1. Eat a healthy diet – Along with exercising, limiting the amount of salt in your everyday meals has proven to decrease your blood pressure by 5 to 10 points. Pay close attention to eating good fats in your everyday diet. Saturated fats and trans fat are the types of fats you should try to avoid and monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good fats to add to your diet. The most well-known heart healthy nutrition plan is often referred as the Mediterranean diet. Many of the foods included in this diet provide various benefits to your heart and consist of items such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds as well as monounsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil and polyunsaturated fats such as fish.
  1. Try a stress relieving activity – When you’re under stress, your body releases adrenaline into your blood stream, making your heart rate speed up and blood pressure rise temporarily. Living a stressful life can cause your body to change the way it behaves by increasing your resting blood pressure and heart rate, potentially contributing to blockages and reduced blood flow within the heart. Some ways to reduce stress include daily exercise and 7 to 8 hours each night.

    “If you exercise daily and get enough rest at night, you are contributing to a lower stress level and therefore having less of an impact on your blood pressure, reducing your risk of developing heart disease,” Dr. Lewis says.
  1. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke – Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of mortality. Nicotine which is found in tobacco damages the structure and function of your heart’s blood vessels. The effects of smoking can cause plaque to develop within the arteries which can form blockages leading to heart attack. Non-smokers are also at risk for heart disease. Second-hand smoke exposure has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease by 25-30 percent.

To learn more about UNC REX heart and vascular care, visit RexHealth.com.

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