Heart-Healthy Living: COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic we must not forget that our lifestyle choices are the key to maintaining health. In addition to the currently recommended pandemic precautions of social distancing, frequent hand washing, and the wearing of face masks when in public, these additional ten factors that I discuss with each of my patients provide the greatest opportunity to health and vitality.

What is good for the heart is good for the body, mind, and soul.

Whether your risk for heart disease is elevated, or not, these suggestions are based upon clinical evidence aimed at the prevention of cardiovascular disease and its complications such as heart attacks and strokes. This is not a replacement for obtaining expertise from your physician and no medications should ever be discontinued without the guidance of your physician. The following suggestions are for you to become empowered to maintain or even reclaim your health and wellbeing. Any major lifestyle change should be undertaken with medical supervision with the goal of health optimization.

Almost 90% of cardiovascular disease is preventable by adhering to healthy lifestyle choices. Below are suggestions that optimize endothelial function, cardiovascular profile and overall health.

Plant-powered heart health.

The new “gold standard” for dietary advice is the “Mediterranean Diet.” This way of eating is far better than standard American diet (SAD), which is made up of excessive amounts of processed foods, including excessive sugar, refined grains, trans fats, meat, dairy, food additives, artificial colors, and food preservatives. 

The Mediterranean Diet is plant-rich and includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. The main fat is from olive oil and other plant sources, while poultry and dairy are still consumed they are used more as a condiment rather than the centerpiece of the meal. Cold-water marine fish are consumed but only one or two servings per week, which equates to 200-300 grams of fish or 2-4 grams of the essential fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid. Other meats are consumed but rarely to never. Yet, despite this healthier approach, there remains a persistent 25% risk of a recurrent cardiac event in 4 years, which by all standards is still considered high risk.

There remains a healthier option. The low-fat, whole food plant-based (vegan) diet has been associated with prevention and reversal of coronary artery disease along with abolition of cardiac symptoms. When properly eaten, this dietary pattern is associated with high adherence and a multitude of health benefits.

Foods to EnjoyFoods to Avoid
VegetablesAdded sugar & sweeteners
FruitsRefined grains, such as wheat flour
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)Trans fats or hydrogenated oils
Whole (intact) grainsVegetable oils
Nuts & seedsMeat, especially processed meats
Herbs & spicesArtificial food additives, color and preservatives

Stop smoking

Avoid primary and secondary smoke exposure. If you struggle with quitting then consider the Craving To Quit App, or discuss with your provider alternatives to helping you quit.

Know that any combustible material, such as car exhaust and wood burning, can increase your cardiovascular risk.

  • Avoid smoking and preparing smoked foods
  • Avoid air pollution when possible. Protect yourself when traveling to areas with known high levels of particulate air pollution; see this interactive link for more information.

Aim for a healthy weight

For most individuals, a healthy body weight is associated with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. If overweight, then weight loss is associated improved cardiovascular risk profile and reduced cardiovascular events. Your BMI can easily be calculated from your height and weight using the Aim for a Healthy Weight calculator.

Be physically active

Exercise has clearly been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease, improve cardiovascular risk profile and promote health and wellbeing. Discuss with your provider which exercise program is best for you.

  • A Brisk walk  (3 to 4 miles per hour) for 180 minutes weekly (30 minutes, 6 days a week) has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk.
  • Resistance training 2-3 times weekly
  • Consider adding yoga, pilates or tai chi
  • Most importantly, move your body and play

Manage stress

Over 90% of visits to doctors offices are stress related issues. Practicing stress protective activities increases resiliency. As we address our stress, have fun, practice relaxation, and use healthy coping skills, we build our resilience to future stress and avoid the harm stress can incur. There are resources available to help you more effectively manage the stress in your daily life. If you think stress may be playing a role in how you feel, then discuss this with your provider who can guide you to useful resources. 

Get good sleep

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep daily. Consistently getting adequate restful sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle. The health benefits of getting adequate and restful sleep impacts all aspects of our mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual life.  

Make sure you don’t suffer from sleep apnea. Answer the “STOP-BANG” questionnaire. If you score greater than 2, then talk with your provider about scheduling a sleep study. Sleep apnea is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death.

Limit or eliminate coffee and caffeinated beverage consumption

Your provider can do a simple blood test to check CYP1A2 activity and see if you are at risk of high blood pressure related to caffeine consumption. The CYP1A2 rs762551 C allele results in slower caffeine metabolism and is associated with the risk for hypertension.

Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption

Current recommendations are to limit alcohol to less than 1 drink daily, or 7 weekly in females, and in males, 2 drinks daily, or less than 14 weekly. Avoid binge drinking.

Maintain oral health

Brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day prevents gum disease that is a major risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. See your dentist for regular exams. Consider removal of mercury amalgams. 

Address cardiovascular risk factors

If you have any of the following medical conditions, then work with your provider to get them under optimal control.

  • Type 2 diabetes/pre-diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Environmental toxin exposures
  • Chronic stress
  • Anxiety/depression/loneliness
Get a helping hand.

See an integrative cardiologist

As an integrative cardiologist, I know these lifestyle choices can greatly impact your health and well-being whether you simply want to stay well or need to reverse existing heart disease. I also recognize the importance of ensuring that environmental toxin exposure is minimized, digestive health is optimized and both the neuroendocrine and immune systems are brought under good control. Feel free to contact me for an individualized assessment, recommendations and ongoing support in your journey towards health and vitality.

Integrative Health: Body, Mind, Soul and Spirit