The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, beating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. According to the American Heart Association, the average heart beats 100,000 times a day, sending around 2,000 gallons of blood through the body. It does all this work automatically, silently, and in the background.
The heart may be strong and powerful, but like any part of the body, things can sometimes go wrong. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Genetics and factors beyond our control can play a role, but environmental and lifestyle factors are also important. John F. Keaney Jr., MD, director of the cardiology clinical service at Mass General Brigham, and a cardiologist who treats patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains: “Attention to lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can go a long way to delaying or preventing the onset of heart disease, even for those individuals with a family history of this condition.”
Dr. Keaney and other Mass General Brigham experts discuss how to keep the heart healthy through lifestyle choices and share nutrition, exercise, and sleep tips.
Coronary artery disease is one of the most common heart conditions, affecting 20 million Americans, according to the American College of Cardiology. It happens when plaque, made up of cholesterol and other substances, builds up in the coronary arteries. This buildup can cause heart attacks. The good news is that healthy lifestyle habits can help ward off coronary artery disease.
“This is a preventable disease,” says Dr. Marc Sabatine, MD, MPH, a Mass General Brigham cardiologist. “It’s incumbent on all of us to take action early to help prevent this disease from developing.”
Cholesterol plays an important role in the body, helping to send chemical signals and move molecules in the blood stream. Our liver produces cholesterol using building blocks from our diet. Too much, however, can contribute to clogging the arteries.
“Most of us just have way more of it than we need. When we as humans are exposed to something at an abnormal level, then it can hurt us,” explains cardiologist Romit Bhattacharya, MD.
The foods we eat affect our cholesterol levels. “What ends up happening in an unhealthy diet is that you ingest a lot of fat, cholesterol, and sugar,” Dr. Bhattacharya says. “Not only are you ingesting the building blocks for cholesterol, but the sugar and high insulin levels (particularly if you have insulin resistance or diabetes) turns up the speed and the amount of cholesterol you produce.”
Self-care has become a hot topic in our culture today, but it can go well beyond face masks and bubble baths. By maintaining your physical and emotional health, you can help lower the risk of heart disease.
To be proactive about your heart health:
“The earlier you come in to see a cardiologist, the better your heart health will be. Early treatment for your symptoms prevents the heart muscle and heart tissue from becoming irreversibly damaged,” says cardiologist Lola Ojutalayo, MD.