The Stitch

7 Tips for a healthy heart from a heart surgeon

A doctor showing a model heart to a patient

February is not just the month of love; it’s also the month dedicated to raising awareness about heart health. As we embark on Heart Month, it’s crucial to prioritize our cardiovascular well-being. Dr. Lauren Barron, Baylor Medicine heart surgeon, shares seven tips for keeping your heart healthy.

1. Prioritize a heart-healthy diet

Barron emphasizes that the first step in keeping a healthy heart is keeping a healthy plate. She tells her patients like she tells her family that “half of every meal should be veggies (the more colorful the better),” and “if it comes in a package, it probably has more salt and sugar than you think.”

2. Stay active for a strong heart

Regular physical activity is key to maintaining cardiovascular health. “Make exercise a non-negotiable part of your routine,” she said. “The trick is to build moderate physical activities into your routine. If you can find an activity of moderate intensity that you enjoy, prioritize it in your schedule.” What is moderate activity? Barron describes it as an activity you can do while you can talk but not sing.

3. Know your numbers

Understanding the ways your health is measured is essential to understanding if you need to make changes. “Monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar regularly,” Barron said. “These numbers are great topics of conversation with your primary care health provider. Awareness is the first step toward getting and keeping a healthy cardiovascular system.”

4. Manage stress for a healthy heart

Chronic stress can take a toll on your heart health. “It’s really important to check in with yourself on your stress load,” she said. “See if you can identify an activity that leaves you less stressed. These can be healthy outlets for stress recovery and can significantly benefit your cardiovascular system.”

5. Quit smoking

According to Barron the No. 1 thing a person can do for their heart is to quit smoking. She often reminds her patients that quitting most often isn’t an off/on phenomenon and that most people who successfully quit smoking try and fail on average five to seven times before they quit for good. She says, “If you try and aren’t successful, it isn’t failure until you decide to quit trying, because it gets a little easier each time.”

Your insurance may also cover the cost of a smoking cessation program. Baylor Medicine offers one that tailors a plan for the patient and may include counseling, medication and more. If interested, call (713) 798-6376.

6. Get quality sleep

The importance of adequate, quality sleep should not be underestimated. Barron shares that the Navy SEALs are programed to prioritize getting seven hours of sleep per night, and they take it seriously. She says that if the SEALs can prioritize seven hours of their day for health, then the average person should be aiming for that too!

7. Stay informed and advocate for your heart health

Barron encourages everyone to own their heart health. What does that mean? She advises that everyone know if heart problems run in your family and at what age they showed up.

“Everyone knows that chest pain or the feeling of an elephant on your chest is a red flag symptom,” she said. “Not everyone knows that often, it is mild pain, and it can go to your jaw or down your arm. Also in women, it’s often not the only symptom and shows up with nausea and just feeling overall fatigued. These signs and symptoms of heart disease should prompt you to seek medical advice if something doesn’t feel right.”

Barron emphasizes that you may have to advocate for your own heart health, because it may not be the first thought of every provider you see.

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

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