14 ways cardiologists keep their own hearts healthy

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You’ve heard for years about the healthy habits that keep your ticker ticking: Watch your weight, eat a balanced diet, make sure to exercise, and stay away from cigarettes. But it’s not always easy to play by these rules in real life, when stress and crazy schedules get in the way. That’s why we went to some of the most overworked, overstressed people we know—cardiologists—to find out what they do personally to keep their hearts healthy and sneak good-for-you habits into their lives.

“I sneak in veggies by blending them all into a smoothie. During my first year of medical school, I realized I never had time to sit down and eat a salad. So I started blending one before I went to work every morning: I’d throw some bell peppers, carrots, celery, antioxidant-rich berries, and a dash of cayenne in (for a little zing), and bring the drink with me to the hospital. People got used to seeing me on campus holding a jar with my veggie shake. Now I throw all the veggies into the blender the night before, so at 6 AM I can just add water and lemon juice, blend for a couple minutes, and then go.”


—Sheila Sahni, MD, cardiologist at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles

“I have an alarm on my phone that says “exercise” every day at 3 PM. My residents laugh at me, but I tell them that it’s the only way I can make sure I get enough activity. As soon as that alarm goes off, I check my pedometer. If I haven’t clocked 10,000 steps yet, then as soon as I can take a break, I go out and take a short walk, run up and down the hospital stairs for 10 minutes—anything to make sure I reach my goal. I also installed an app on my phone that I absolutely love, called HeadSpace, which quickly leads you through a bunch of relaxation meditation exercises. I make sure I peek at it while I’m at work at least once a day.”

—Karol Watson, MD, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Center at UCLA

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“Every time I go out to eat at a restaurant, I order fish. It’s one of the foods I know I should be eating regularly, but I can’t stand the smell when I prepare it at home. This way, I get my heart healthy omega-3s in and know I’m choosing something that’s relatively low in fat and calories. I also do my own yard work. I don’t just save money; I get a great workout pushing the mower and gardening has become my therapy.”

—Allen Taylor, MD, chief of cardiology with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, DC
“I carry my gym bag with me everywhere I go. I usually exercise 60 to 90 minutes a day—I’m currently training for a half marathon—but fitting it into my crazy schedule is daunting. This way, if I have an hour between patients in the hospital, I can just scoot out for a run. I also do yoga twice a week and make sure I get in some meditation every day—usually 10 to 15 minutes of deep breathing, where I focus on different parts of my body—before I fall asleep.”

—Katie Berlacher, MD, cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Heart and Vascular Institute in Pittsburgh
“I do positive visualization when I’m stressed, since I often don’t have the time to incorporate a stress reduction activity like meditation into my schedule. For example, if I’m wheeling a very sick patient from the ER to the catheter lab, I take some deep breaths as I’m pushing them and imagine doing the procedure and it being a success.”

—Sheila Sahni, MD
“I recently did an online calculation to determine my heart age and found out, to my shock, that it was older than my actual age. So I’ve made quite a few changes. The biggest one is carving out time to exercise. I’ve made it clear to my family that when I come home from work, the first 30 to 45 minutes are for me to move. Otherwise I’ll never fit it in.”

—Seth Jacobson, MD, medical director of cardiac rehab at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY

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“I spend about 40% of my time listening to music, everything from classical to opera to Arabic songs. It’s a potent stress reliever for me, and studies show music helps reduce risk of developing heart disease.”

—William Zoghbi, MD, chairman of the department of cardiology at the Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston
“I build my workout into my commute by running to and from the train station every morning and evening. It’s 2 miles each way, and I carry my laptop and clothes in my backpack, which adds an extra 12 pounds. I also drink milk with every meal—it’s high in protein, so I find it satiating, and it’s also part of the DASH diet, which is crucial for heart health.”

—R. Kannan Mutharasan, MD, medical codirector of the Sports Cardiology Program at Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago
“I take 1,200 mg of aged garlic extract daily. This form of garlic is odorless, so you don’t smell like an Italian restaurant, and there’s good research to show it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. I also take a 500 mg magnesium supplement every day since I drink a lot of coffee, which is a diuretic and causes you to lose magnesium when you urinate. Low magnesium is linked to irregular heartbeat, so I feel like this is a little extra insurance to keep it healthy.”

—Matthew Budoff, MD, cardiologist at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
“I just started doing a core training program with a trainer 3 days a week. I had always focused on cardio before, but then one day my hip began to hurt during my morning jog and I realized that the muscles in my butt, back, and abdominals just weren’t strong enough. It’s important to keep your core strong so that you can keep exercising as you get older.”

—Jennifer Haythe, MD, cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center
“I used to be a marathon runner before I gave birth to my daughter 16 months ago. Now there’s no time to exercise! I’m at work all day and I want to spend my early AM and evening hours with her, so I’ve incorporated a 10-minute dance ritual into her bedtime, to keep us both active. That way I don’t feel too guilty if I don’t have the energy after she’s asleep to get on my at-home elliptical machine.”

—Deborah Kwon, MD, cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic
“I was a lifetime non-exerciser, but as I got into my 60s I began to wonder if it was time to start practicing what I preach to patients. This past fall, I was lecturing in Chicago at a conference and watching the marathon. I saw so many unhealthy looking people cross the finish line and thought, if they can do it, why can’t I? The clincher was when my 22-year-old daughter, Hannah, informed me she wanted to take up running and ultimately run a marathon. We decided we would train together. I hadn’t really broken a sweat since maybe 1969, but I’m proud to say I ran my first 5K last month and just ran 5 miles this past weekend. I plan on running my first half marathon next September, and if I survive, I’ll train for a marathon the following year.”

—Howard Weitz, MD, director of the Division of Cardiology at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia

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“I try to do yoga every day, and if I don’t have a lot of time, I squeeze in 10 minutes with a few basic yoga poses like a sun salutation or a warrior sequence. I prefer Ashtanga or Vinyasa, as I feel there’s more clear research about their health benefits, but all types of yoga are great for decreasing your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar.”

—Kavitha Chinnaiyan, MD, cardiologist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI
“I have a glass of red wine and 40 g of 70% dark chocolate (the equivalent of a small candy bar) every night. Red wine is rich in resveratrol and other antioxidant ingredients that help strengthen the lining of your body’s blood vessels, reducing risk of a heart attack or stroke. Dark chocolate has similar effects. And I find both also help me fall asleep, which is another thing that’s important for heart health.”

—John Higgins, MD, a sports cardiologist with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
“I practice something known as grounding, where you put your bare feet on the ground and take in the energy of Mother Earth. When you’re walking this way, you’re absorbing electrons through your feet—it’s literally like you’re taking the fireworks out of the inflammation throughout your body.”

—Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist in St. Petersburg, FL, and author of Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth

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