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Heart and Vascular

Healthy Heart Tips with Dr. Kirkham

Feb 24 2022

Having a healthy heart is something that you need to work at every day, whether that is doing some sort of exercise or eating fruits and vegetables. Starting with small steps will likely help you achieve your heart health goals by creating healthy habits.

“You don’t want to make any change too hard,” Mark Kirkham, MD, a cardiologist at Mercy Health – The Heart Institute, Fairfield, shares. “Most of us know what we need to do but the hard part is actually doing it.”

One heart health basic is to exercise at least 150 minutes each week, or 30 minutes a day.

“The important thing is to exercise consistently,” Dr. Kirkham says.

If you exercise regularly, you can decrease your risk of a cardiac event by up to 45 percent.

“It doesn’t take a lot of running to make a big difference. Maybe five to 10 minutes a day can be beneficial to decrease your risk for heart disease,” Dr. Kirkham adds.

And if you prefer to walk, walking for 30 minutes a day can also provide benefits.

“Anything that elevates your heart rate helps decrease your risk for heart disease,” Dr. Kirkham explains.

If finding time to exercise is an issue, break things up throughout your day.

“This 30-minute walk can be split up at different points throughout the day, say 15 minutes on your lunch break and 15 minutes once you are finished with work. The important thing is that you move around,” Dr. Kirkham says.

He continues, “have you ever heard that you need to take at least 10,000 steps a day? That might seem overwhelming if you’re just getting started. The minimum number of steps you need to take each day is 4,500 to make a difference to your heart health.”

Harvard studies show that getting at least 4,500 steps a day can decrease your risk of a cardiac event by 40 percent. You can improve your mortality rate by achieving 7,500 steps per day.

“You can reach that number over two daily walks of 30 minutes or less. If you’re active throughout the day outside of the time you set aside for walks, you won’t have to walk as long to reach 7,500 steps,” Dr. Kirkham adds.

He emphasizes that our diet also plays a part in having a healthy heart.

“While we may all know this, eating fruits and vegetables is important,” Dr. Kirkham shares. “My favorite diet recommendation is the Mediterranean diet. This is not super restricting. It includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, high sources of protein, low-fat foods and helps you avoid red meat and sugars as much as possible. By following this diet, you also decrease the amount of sodium in your diet, which can lower your blood pressure.”

Both diet and a lack of sleep can contribute to you developing high blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for heart disease.

Rest helps the body manage the hormones that regulate stress and metabolism. A regular lack of sleep can disrupt those hormones, leading to increased stress and cravings that are anything but heart healthy.

“When we cannot sleep, we tend to eat foods that have a lot of carbs or calories to give us the energy we’re missing from rest. When we’re tired, we tend to reach for whatever’s easiest,” Dr. Kirkham explains. “Getting the recommended amount of sleep, roughly seven to eight hours nightly, helps your body recover from the day before and sets you up for success for the day to come.”

February is American Heart Month. Learn more about the cardiology services we offer at Mercy Health.

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