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If anyone knows how to prevent heart disease, it's cardiologists. Here are the heart-healthy diet tips, exercise routines, and other habits they always follow themselves.

Lauren Oster
February 09, 2017

You know the basics of living a heart-healthy life: Don’t smoke, stay slim, eat well, get your exercise. But what does that look like in real life? Here are the tactics experts share with their friends and families—and that they use to take care of themselves—all year long.

Keep it simple

"I try to tell my patients and my friends that a lot of sticking to being healthy is more about daily habits, and less about these intense 30-day detoxes. I eat a Mediterranean type of diet, I don’t eat fried foods, I don’t eat chips and junk food, I try not to eat dessert that often. I think that if you stick to pretty healthy food choices and aren’t having a lot of processed foods—so you have salads and fresh vegetables and fruit and fish and it’s not being fried in butter—you don’t have to do that much label reading.”

—Jennifer Haythe, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the Center for Advanced Cardiac Care at Columbia University Medical Center and Co-Director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health, New York City

Get on your feet

“The less completely sedentary time you have, the better off you are. I have a standing desk, and when I take conference calls or phone meetings I try to do them while walking.”

—Joshua Knowles, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at The Stanford University Medical Center

You can always walk more

“I find if I’m trying to keep my weight down and also keep in good cardiovascular health, the best way to do it is fast-walk, so I fast-walk for an hour on the treadmill at least five days a week, and I watch the news at the same time so I get two things done. People are like, ‘I’m too busy, I’m too busy’—I tell people, listen, if you were going to get a thousand-dollar check every Friday if you walked fast for an hour five times a week, would you be able to do it? Almost everyone says yes. And you can always squeeze something in. If you commute via public transportation, get off the subway a stop or two earlier, or if you ever have to take the crosstown bus, don’t take the crosstown bus, walk! Wear comfortable shoes, and try to walk either to or from work. If you’re headed to the supermarket, park in the last spot. If you drive everywhere, take a lunch break walk.”

—Marc S. Eisenberg, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and clinical cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

RELATED: Your Slim and Strong Walking Workout

Know your risk

“One thing that I try to do with my friends is raise awareness with other women about heart disease, because I’m 43 and it’s really not on people’s minds at this age—but it’s the leading cause of death for women! Heart disease you think of as “old,” you think of as “men that are lazy and smoke and eat fatty food,” and that’s just not totally true. When I talk to people I ask, Do you have anyone in your family who had heart disease? How did people die? Oh, did you realize that’s a heart problem? If someone says, ‘My mother had really bad high blood pressure and then ended up having water in her lungs,’ well, did you know that’s actually heart failure?”

—Dr. Haythe

Keep loved ones close

“There is pretty clear data indicating that people who have strong interpersonal relationships live longer and have better quality of life. For me, family (including my wife, young kids, siblings, grandparents, et cetera) and friends and close co-workers is what it's all about!"

—Dr. Knowles

Get in exercise early

“You always have that excuse when you go home at the end of the day that you’ve got other obligations, family, young kids maybe, and there’s always a reason not to exercise. So if there’s a time at the beginning of the day before you go to work, or at a lunch break, instead of sitting around and watching the news on your screen and not getting up again, it’s better to get up and stretch yourself out, get in a half hour of walking. It’ll clear the mind and it’s certainly great for the heart. I have Central Park right across the street from the hospital, so between operations I can go for a run around the park—I find that it’s invigorating for the rest of the day.”

—Allan S. Stewart, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City

RELATED: Lunch Break Workout Tips

Schedule it, if you have to

“Because I found it really hard to exercise after work or even during work like some people do, I hired a trainer to come to my house three mornings a week at six o’clock and ring the doorbell, and I had to get up because that person was going to be there. And it was painful! You can’t cancel the night before unless you want to waste the money! Obviously it’s expensive, but I feel like it’s been worth it more than joining a gym I never went to. It feels like money well spent.”

Dr. Haythe

You probably don’t need supplements

“There is a clear allure to taking supplements because you don’t need a prescription, they’re less expensive than prescription medication, and it’s empowering to treat yourself—but unfortunately, there is not much evidence to support supplement use. Vitamin supplementation for the prevention of heart disease has been very disappointing, and aside from mixed results for fish oil supplements, I can’t think of any that have a demonstrated benefit in terms of long-term safety and outcomes, meaning preventing heart attacks and improving survival.”

—David J. Maron, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, CA

Go easy on the red wine

“I think that some social drinking is obviously fine, and it’s always nice to enjoy a nice glass of wine, or a beer with the football game, but I will say this idea that wine is good for your heart is kind of a little bit of a warped message, because I think we shouldn’t really be promoting red wine drinking as a method of improving your heart health. We know that alcohol can be cardiotoxic; there are people who are heavy alcoholics who develop a heart failure syndrome purely because of alcohol use. That being said, I don’t think that if you have a couple of glasses of wine during the week you’re doing any major damage, I just think you have to watch it and make sure it’s not becoming a regular thing; it’s never good to do anything in more than moderation.”

—Dr. Haythe

Find a diet that doesn’t make you feel deprived

“The only diets that ever work are diets that you can integrate in your normal life and keep and make them sustainable. How do I lose weight? I’m really good until dinnertime. During the workday I eat nothing that’s bad for me. I eat whatever the heck I want on weekends, and I eat what I want for dinner. After dinner I only eat very healthy desserts—air-popped popcorn, Greek yogurt, or Cheerios. So I can still feel like I’m eating when I’m watching TV, but I don’t eat anything bad.”

—Dr. Eisenberg

RELATED: 10 Heart-Healthy Dessert Recipes

Prioritize sleep

“It’s pretty clear that having poor sleep and being chronically tired are bad, and they’re bad for a number of reasons; it’s a vicious cycle. If you sleep poorly you tend to eat poorly, and if you eat poorly you’re more sedentary and you’re more likely to be obese—and then you tend to sleep poorly. Sleep disturbances and especially sleep apnea are very, very common problems with cardiovascular disease.”

—Dr. Knowles

Make your exercise routine a routine

“I tell people all the time that it doesn’t much matter what you do, the most important piece of exercise equipment is the on/off switch. It’s whatever you’re going to do religiously. Your blood pressure drops, your heart rate drops, you tend to produce more endorphins—you get more pleasure out of reproducible exercise. It’s miserable at first, but once you get into a cycle of exercise, you start to miss it when it’s not in your life.”

—Dr. Stewart