How Do You Make Yourself Heart-Healthy?

A combination of information, motivation and action are the keys to improving your cardiac future. 

Healthy Heart|Jan.23, 2024

There are few keys to a long, productive life more important than a steady, strong heart.

The problem is that most of us basically take it for granted. We don’t — and won’t — know for certain our heart is healthy until 1) we have detailed testing or 2) something goes very, very wrong.

So how do we best ensure we are living heart-healthy lives?

Heart-Healthy Life Advice, Part 1: Assume Nothing

  • Myth No. 1: “I’m not old, so I’m not worried.”

Here’s a stat that jumped off the page when we took a look at how prevalent heart conditions are for every age group:

There’s a 2% differential between those who are 42-57 years old and those who are 18-25.1 Just two percent.

People just tend to assume that cardiac conditions are predominantly found in older individuals — and that disease is neatly and evenly divided up across gender and demographic populations.


Anyone at any age is at risk of cardiac conditions, and it’s never too early to make heart health your priority.

  • Myth No. 2: “Everyone receives the same level of cardiac care.”

Considerable research into the area of access to quality medical care has shown that conscious or unconscious gender, racial and ethnic biases are adversely impacting the vascular health of women and people of color.

Among other findings, women and non-white patients are less-likely to be recommended for and receive interventions like cardiac catheterizations, with poorer clinical outcomes. For patients under 50, the overall mortality rate during hospitalizations for myocardial infarctions (that’s the medical term for a heart attack) was twice that of men in the same situation.

  • Myth No. 3: “I take great care of myself, so I’m not at risk.”

Well, ask Jay King about that.

King was a poster boy for middle-age health. A triathlete who continued to compete into his late 50s, he was exercising daily and living right when he went in for a routine physical and learned he was suffering from atrial fibrillation — an irregular heartbeat. He was asymptomatic.

He received great care, but the initial intervention didn’t work, and his heart stopped while he was cycling. He was lucky that a passerby saw him on the road, and he eventually received the long-term intervention that worked for him.

Healthy Heart

Part 2: Put the Odds Ever in Your Favor

  • Action No. 1: Eat like your life depends on it.

No one’s asking you to remove all the gastro-joy from your life, subsisting on tofu and tea. But we can all make improvements.

On that note, we are not afraid to take a controversial stance: We are pro-plant because we are pro-heart.

  • Plants have lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and, not surprisingly, are low in fat and calories.
  • There are lots of choices at this level of your personal food pyramid:  fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, etc.
  • Replacing some fats and sugars with plant-based options can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and things we would do well to avoid, if possible: high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity and diabetes; all of which seem intent on reducing our heart health.
  • Honestly, we have yet to find a processed food snack that can compete with the simple joy of a red seedless grape. Just sayin’.

You want protein? There are a bunch of protein-rich parts of a plant-based diet. If you’re taking steps toward a heart-healthier diet, feel free to do so in baby steps:

  • Snack on fruits or nuts (or go nuts on some red, seedless grapes).
  • Use plant-based fats such as olive oil.
  • Try a plant-based recipe or swap a plant-based ingredient into one you already use and see how that goes.

The bottom line is you may improve your heart health and find out there are some heretofore unknown delicious options out there.

  • Action No. 2: Put your left foot out. Put your right foot in front of it.

Again, no one’s looking for you to go from zero to a Nike ad. Just walk.

If you already walk some, walk more. If you already walk more, do a couple of calisthenics, followed by a few more. Before you know it, you’ll feel better, and so will your healthier heart. ’Nuff said.

  • Action No. 3: Doctors get lonely, too. Go visit yours.

Every physician has somewhere between 12-12,000 stories of asymptomatic patients who came in for a routine physical and walked away diagnosed with a serious, but treatable, medical condition. These stories inevitably conclude with a sigh of relief and the good news that the doctor is still treating that patient today.

The moral of those thousands of stories is that treating a condition earlier is usually easier and safer than treating it later.

Doctors don’t like to give bad news. Give them a break and go visit when your heart condition is easier to handle and much more likely to have a nice ending.

Part 3: Know an Unhealthy Heart When You See One

Whether it is you or someone nearby, the ability to recognize cardiac-related symptoms may be a life-saver.

We all know the classic “chest grab” in movies, but the reality is far more nuanced and just as important to recognize.

  • Sign No. 1: Heart Attacks

Heart attacks occur when the blood supply to the heart is reduced or stopped, often because the arteries become blocked. Chest pain, pressure or even slight discomfort is the most common sign.

Others include:

  • Aching pain in the arms, jaw, back, shoulders or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Severe fatigue that can last for days
  • Breaking into a cold sweat

But as we mentioned earlier, different people can have different experiences. Women are less likely to experience chest pain as the dominant symptom, and men are more likely to have cold sweats. Still others have no symptoms. The key is to get emergency help if there is any concern.

  • Sign No. 2: Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic condition that develops slowly and worsens over time as the heart struggles to pump efficiently. Some things to watch for:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea and fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Confusion

Even the sensation that you are less active than before may be a sign and should be discussed with a doctor.

Heart failure does not mean that the heart has failed — it’s just not working as well as it could. As noted before, getting to a medical professional as early as possible is important.

How do we know if we have a healthy heart? The same way we maintain a healthy heart: we pay attention to how it’s doing, respect it for the unsung work it does thousands of times every day and, above all, get it checked out by professionals.


1.     Data on file at Abbott, December 2022