It's not complicated: Simple steps to a heart-healthy lifestyle

Dr._Ciaburri_and_patient universal

UChicago Medicine cardiologist Ankur Shah, MD, says adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle is a little like learning to ride a bike.

“You may fall early and often,” Shah said, “but as you keep at it, you don't fall as often, and it's much easier to get back on and keep riding.”

Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The American Heart Association estimates that 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable with education and action.

“The single best thing a person can do for his or her heart health is to implement a good lifestyle plan, and by that I mean modifying diet/nutrition and exercise until these things become basic parts of your life,” said Shah, who sees patients at UChicago Medicine locations in Orland Park and the South Loop. “It's tough to make a habit, but once you have done it, it's very easy to maintain.”

Here are some tips from Shah and cardiothoracic surgeon Daniel Ciaburri, MD, who sees patients at the UChicago Medicine cardiothoracic surgery clinic at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey.

Get moving

Ciaburri: Younger healthy people can start an exercise program with little or no supervision. Elderly people, or those with a significant history of cardiovascular disease, should start such a program under supervision. The amount and type of needed supervision varies; your primary care physician can advise you.

Typically we would like to see people ramp up their exercise program so they are doing some type of aerobic activity that gets them up to an age-appropriate target heart rate for at least 20 minutes, three to four times per week.

Shah: If you can afford it, a few early sessions with a personal trainer is a good place to start. You have someone working with you and toward your goal, while helping you get familiar with the various exercise modalities and equipment types available.

Watch what you eat

Ciaburri: There are some simple dietary changes that a patient can make to improve his or her heart health. Avoid large amounts of carbohydrates, including sweets. Avoid processed meats. Think twice about anything that comes preserved in a plastic wrapper. Fresh meats and vegetables are preferable.

Dealing with stress

Ciaburri: Everyone is different regarding this, meaning what may be considered stressful by some, is challenging and invigorating to others. Having a good sense of internal well being and self-control can help us each to assess that individually. Counseling from friends or family, or even professional counseling, can be very helpful.

Heart and Vascular Center

From advanced diagnostic technology to minimally invasive treatments and robotic surgery, the University of Chicago Medicine can provide the full scope of care for any type of heart or vascular disorder in adults and children.

Explore our Heart and Vascular Center

Meet The Experts