Protect your heart and promote a healthy lifestyle

Protect your heart and promote a healthy lifestyle

Design: Lorena Lopez/University of Miami
By Life@TheU

Design: Lorena Lopez/University of Miami

Protect your heart and promote a healthy lifestyle

By Life@TheU
Learn from University of Miami Health System experts who can help support your health and well-being.

During American Heart month, become familiar with the top risk factors for heart disease, including little to no exercise, poor diet, smoking, hypertension, and diabetes. Heart disease affects everyone, men and women alike, according to Dr. Maureen Lowery, a cardiologist at the University of Miami Health System and vice-chair of Faculty Development and Diversity for the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine. As part of Dr. Lowery’s mission, she spends time educating women that their No. 1 killer is heart disease. 

Often thought of as a health issue that affects men disproportionately, Dr. Lowery explains that symptoms in women typically appear a decade later than in men, and heart attacks occur 20 years later. Ignoring warning signs, like plaque buildup in arteries, can lead to atherosclerosis. Recognize risk factors, symptoms, and get properly screened.

Your heart and COVID-19.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have learned that the virus can affect other organs, including the heart. As the known impact continues evolving, it is understood that the heart muscle can experience inflammation or myocarditis. Patients with myocarditis can experience shortness of breath, chest pain, and abnormal heartbeats, while some report swollen extremities. But more seriously, myocarditis can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle. This can lead to trouble delivering essential blood and oxygen to the rest of the body, potentially causing fluid overload in other organs, weakness, fatigue, lack of energy, and diminished exercise capacity. Learn more about the COVID-19 myocarditis link.

Bad cholesterol can increase your risk for a heart attack.

One key way to help reduce your risk for a heart attack and stroke is keeping your LDL cholesterol—low-density lipoproteins, often referred to as bad cholesterol—within a healthy range. These particles in the blood carry cholesterol throughout the body to perform critical functions, like keeping proper salt and water balance, producing hormones, and digesting the food you eat. When your LDL is too high, your risk for heart attack and stroke increases. Lowering your level means a focus on lifestyle changeslike quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting regular aerobic exercise, according to Dr. Carl E. Orringer, a cardiologist with the University of Miami Health System. Discover more ways to take control of your cholesterol.

Food and chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fighting infection, injury, and toxins. But it can damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs when widespread and chronic. Over time, this response can contribute to life-threatening conditions, including heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease. Excess body fat—especially visceral fat, which is stored in the belly and around major organs—can lead to chronic widespread inflammation. What you eat and don’t eat can impact your waistline and your body’s inflammatory response, specifically sugar and animal products, which are two main food items that are linked to increased inflammation. Reduce chronic inflammation with food

For starters, focus on eating a variety of colorful foods, which can help maximize the nutritional value on your plate, according to Lesley Klein, a registered dietitian with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Each color of food contains antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are instrumental in reducing the risk and progression of different health conditions. Regardless of your body weight, Klein adds that eating healthier all around can help prevent cancer. Learn what to eat on an anti-inflammatory diet—and what shouldn’t be on your plate.

When it comes to sugar, aim for moderation—or as little as possible.

Your body is designed to digest carbohydrates and break them down into simple sugars, which are used for normal metabolic functions, explains Dr. Michelle Pearlman, a gastroenterologist with the University of Miami Health System. She adds that, in reality, consuming additional sugar is not required. When sugar is added to the diet, typically as high fructose corn syrup, there is an increased risk of chronic medical problems, such as diabetes and fatty liver. Additionally, Dr. Pearlman warns that excessive consumption of alcohol comes with its own set of health risks and adverse health consequences, including cancer, liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and pancreatitis.

To quench a sweet craving, she recommends eating foods with natural sugars like fruit. And she warns that we should be leery of artificial sweeteners that are found in many health-food products. View dietary guidelines for sugar and alcohol.

Technology can help (sometimes).

Wearable gadgets—like smartwatches—promise to promote heart health, but these devices often have limitations, according to Dr. Raul Mitrani, a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology at the University of Miami Health System. He agrees that these devices can help physicians confirm a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, which is caused by an electrical disorder in the heart’s upper chambers with symptoms that include racing heartbeats and palpitations. Depending on the person, some patients experience more significant symptoms and distress. It can lead some to a weakening of the heart muscle, or cardiomyopathy, which increases the risk of other heart-related problems and strokes. Learn how doctors use technology to diagnose and track heart conditions.

Get physical—exams.

No matter your age, an annual physical exam with your primary care physician can confirm underlying health risks that need attention. Or the checkup may lead to an early-stage diagnosis, which can help you receive treatment sooner with better outcomes. Scheduling an in-person or virtual visit can empower you to be proactive about your health and lifestyle choices. Get information about what having a physical exam entails and why it’s important to schedule one.

Food and exercise.

Whether you’re going for a long-distance run, practicing yoga, or lifting weights, your body will need fuel to keep you going and get stronger. Knowing when and what to ingest—including protein, carbohydrates, fluids, vitamins, and minerals—can encourage muscle growth and recovery. As noted by Jason Stevenson, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and board-certified sports dietitian with the University of Miami Health System, consuming the right kind of protein and carbohydrates before exercise has more impact on your body composition and performance than what you do post-workout. Get more exercise and nutrition tips.


Access the medical care you need at a UHealth facility or via telehealth by scheduling an appointment. Find additional information about scheduling or call 305-243-4000.

Live Well with UHealth is a series that highlights curated content from articles previously published on UMiami Health News, a website that shares health tips and insights into research discoveries that change lives, brought to you by the experts at the University of Miami Health System. This story highlights the following articles.