How to Build a Stronger, Healthier Heart

Feb 3, 2023


The beat of your heart

Treating this organ well is key to a long, healthy life.

Building a stronger, healthier heart is a long-term goal that requires long-term commitment. Not smoking, managing stress, and eating well should be prioritized. The workhorse of the human body, the heart is often taken for granted — until something goes wrong. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and more than 800,000 Americans experience a heart attack each year.

But the news isn’t all bad. Like any muscle, the heart can be strengthened and maintained by making lifestyle changes and managing your risk factors, says Richard Deits, MD, a cardiologist at the Adventist Heart & Vascular Institute.

Read More: What Women Need To Know About Cardiovascular Risk

“While some risk factors like gender, age and family history aren’t modifiable, there are many other factors where there is a potential to intervene,” he says. “Think of the heart like a car — you wouldn’t put water in your gas tank and expect the car to run. The same goes for fueling your heart.”

Dr. Deits shares how to build a stronger, healthier heart.

Stop smoking

“Smoking is the top risk factor for heart disease,” Dr. Deits says. “Continuing to smoke almost guarantees that you’ll get heart disease later in life. And if you already have heart disease, smoking will only accelerate it.”

The good news? Quitting is possible, and new medications and support programs can help ease the process.

“The first step is to build a relationship with your doctor, and be honest about your lifestyle,” he says. “From there, we can work together to help you become a former smoker.”

Manage your stress

The body can react to stress in many ways, including an increase in blood pressure and a faster heart rate.

“High blood pressure can be genetic in nature, but it’s also often influenced by our stress levels and lifestyle choices,” Dr. Deits says. “Try to find healthy outlets like exercise — which can double as a protective measure — and talk to your doctor about treatment options. We have so many options now for managing both high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Eat well, when you can

“There’s no doubt that the heart-healthiest diet is the Mediterranean diet, but the truth is that people have a very hard time totally changing the way they eat,” Dr. Deits says. “The success of long-term dieting is only around 5 percent.”

He says he works with people to make adjustments that are a bit easier to manage, such as reducing portion sizes of their favorite foods or swapping out one meal a day for something healthier.

“Again, the most important aspect here is to establish a good relationship with your doctor,” he says. “We’re on your side, and we are here to help you.”

DISCOVER: Additional Ways To Care For Your Heart

A new home for heart care

Opened in summer 2022, the Adventist Health Cardiovascular Suite and Ghiringhelli Hybrid Operating Room in St. Helena expand the Adventist Heart & Vascular Institute’s ability to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge heart and vascular care.

Key features include:

  • Hybrid operating room: An advanced procedural space that combines all the best features of an operating room with state-of-the-art imaging technology
  • Da Vinci Surgical System: Robotic technology enables surgeons to perform even the most complex and delicate procedures through very small incisions, leading to reduced pain and shorter recovery time
  • More cardiac catheterization labs: Better access to lifesaving care for scheduled procedures and during a heart attack or other emergency