University of South Florida

USF Health experts: Ten ways to keep your heart healthy

USF Health’s cardiovascular team of faculty, researchers, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists and public health professionals continue to develop top-quality research, education and state-of-the-art clinical care to make life better for patients suffering with heart disease. To learn more, click here.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to American Heart Association (AHA), more than 6 million adults currently live with heart disease.

The number of people living with the condition is only expected to rise. AHA data shows that, by 2030, more than 8 million people could be diagnosed with heart disease.

The numbers are alarming. But, taking basic daily steps may help prevent or reduce heart disease and heart attack.


USF Health medical experts on cardiovascular disease weigh in – providing ten things people can do to keep their heart healthy. They suggest to:

Exercise daily

Vishal Parikh, MD, fellow of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, says moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day can lower the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Quit smoking

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack, says Amy Alman, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the USF College of Public Health. “So, say no to smoking,” says Dr. Alman.

Maintain a healthy diet

“A bad diet can put a strain to your heart,” says Ponrathi Athilingam, PhD, assistant professor of cardiology at USF College of Nursing. She suggests considering healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, lean meats, and nuts to help lower the risk of heart disease. She also recommends eating foods with low trans-fat, saturated fat or sodium.

Manage stress

Dr. Parikh says that stress adds strain to the heart. Constant stress causes behaviors that increase heart disease risks including smoking, excessive alcohol, physical inactivity and lack of sleep. So, he says, “It’s important for people to identify triggers and practice relaxing techniques such as meditation. Something just as simple as laughing may help combat stress.

Advanced genomic monitoring/testing

Kevin Sneed, PharmD, dean of the USF College of Pharmacy, said advanced genomic testing and monitoring, which provides an assessment of cardiovascular genes, helps detect any genetic abnormalities early. “This type of technology would provide awareness, and, most of all, give information for a more targeted intervention to prevent future complications,” says Dr. Sneed.

Maintain a balanced weight

Excessive weight gain increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, weight gain leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. “To keep the body in check, remain physically active and, above all, consume whole foods rather than processed foods,” says Mary Soliman, PharmD, assistant professor at USF College of Pharmacy.

Get regular exams

USF Health cardiovascular experts suggest that having regular heart screenings is important – checking the heart rate, blood pressure, body fat and blood sugar. They believe regular screenings keep people informed, which ultimately help prevent heart disease.

Know family history  

Knowing about the family history is important. Having a relative or family member suffering from heart disease, greatly increases one’s risk. “If you have a family history of heart disease or a personal history of heart health risk factors (smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol), you may just need to be more diligent in monitoring your heart health,” says Gregory M. Gutierrez, PhD, assistant professor at the USF Health School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Keeping an overall healthy lifestyle is the secret to a healthy heart. USF Health experts all agree that lifestyle is key to lowering the risk of heart disease. Exercising, eating healthy, avoiding smoking and second hand-smoking and managing stress, lead to better heart health.

What women need to do

Heart disease causes, symptoms and outcomes may be different in women than in men, says Theresa Beckie, PhD, professor and cardiovascular health researcher at USF College of Nursing and Department of Cardiovascular Sciences in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “Women represent a particularly high-risk phenotype. So, women, especially young women, need to pursue aggressive measures to reduce risks with daily physical activity, a healthy dietary pattern, and stress management,” says Dr. Beckie.


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