Learn How To Make Heart-Healthy Habits Stick

Date: May 10, 2024

Ever wonder how a cardiologist keeps their heart healthy? After all, they know what habits support heart health. But they are busy with work, family and home lives—just like you. 

Two Emory Healthcare cardiologists discuss how they build heart-healthy habits into their daily lives. Jonathan H. Kim, MD, serves as the director of Sports Cardiology for Emory Healthcare. Gina Price Lundberg, MD, is the clinical director of our women’s heart program. 

Here, they share tips to make heart-healthy habits stick. You might discover the knowledge—and inspiration—to do the same! 

Understand Your Barriers

You have power over two major factors for heart health: exercise and food. So, what keeps you from physical activity and a good diet? What stops you from heart-healthy habits?  

It is easy to get tied up in everyday activities and responsibilities. You might face challenges such as:  

  • Limited time 
  • Family and work demands and responsibilities 
  • Feeling tired 
  • Lack of knowledge 
  • Not knowing where to start 

“Everyone will have their specific barriers,” says Dr. Kim. “When I was a resident, it was especially hard to fit in exercise. I was tired, and there wasn’t enough time. But I knew even a brisk walk was a good activity.” Even a small change can give you big benefits. 

Be aware of your barriers and make plans that work around them. Feel too tired at the end of the day? Try to fit in a walk during lunchtime instead of an evening gym workout. Have limited time? Research ways to prep quick, healthy meals. Feel discouraged? Find others to make you feel accountable. 

Find Activities You Enjoy

Let go of the exercises you think you “should” do but do not enjoy. The key to a heart-healthy habit is repeating it every week. If the activity makes you happy, you will likely keep it up.  

The American Heart Association recommends we exercise 150 minutes a week for moderate activity or 75 minutes for intense activity. How do you reach that goal, especially with limited time? Take advantage of small moments throughout the day. Grab a 10-minute walk between meetings or after dinner. Choose movement over convenience and choose a farther parking spot. Every little bit helps. 

Dr. Lundberg chooses a variety of activities to keep her heart-health habits fun. “Exercise should not feel like a burden, but something you look forward to and enjoy. I love to hike and walk in North Georgia. I also play recreational golf—not stressed-out, intense golf.” 

Your exercise does not need to be competitive or extreme. Some people like to strive toward goals, while others want a more relaxed pace. You might prefer each type of activity at different points in your life.  

“I used to be a distance runner in school, and I got into running marathons and ultramarathons,” says Dr. Kim. “But now I’m not training for a race. I just run because I enjoy it.” 

Fun physical activities can become a habit, and that is good for your mental health. Exercise provides stress relief, an important part of heart health.  

Prioritize Plant-Based Foods

What does it mean to eat healthy? Diet information can conflict with each other and confuse us all. Dr. Kim advises to keep it simple with these guidelines:  

  • Eat a lot of plant-based foods 
  • Aim to eat whole foods that resemble their original form 
  • Eat lean proteins, like fish, chicken and legumes 
  • Limit red meat, refined carbohydrates and sugary snacks 
  • Limit or avoid fried foods 

Everyone can apply these principles to their eating habits and preferences. For example, Dr. Lundberg chooses a vegetarian diet that focuses on plant-based whole foods. This diet helps keep her cholesterol low and control her blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet also follows these principles.  

Include Your Whole Family

You can feel guilty when you leave your family to go to the gym. And maybe you lack the motivation to walk on your own. But can you turn activities into a family affair? 

Dr. Kim’s wife is also a runner; they keep individual exercise routines. But they also plan family activities. “On my son’s spring vacation, we all went on walks and bike rides together.”  

Consider how you can invite your family and friends to join you. Take advantage of the nice weather and stroll the neighborhood together. Ask kids to request their favorite vegetables when you plan dinners for the week. These strategies will help you build heart-healthy habits and pass them on to your loved ones, too.  

Get Help for Your Heart Health

If you want support to create a heart-healthy habit, Emory Healthcare providers can help. Together, we can start your path to better heart health.  

Emory Heart & Vascular brings together more than 175 physicians. They offer comprehensive medical and surgical treatments for a full range of heart and vascular conditions. We have specialized programs in prevention, sports, women’s heart care and more. 

For more information or to find a provider near you, call 404-778-7777.

Schedule your appointment today.

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