• Cardiovascular

    Lifestyle links to heart health go beyond food, exercise, Mayo Clinic Healthcare expert explains

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Countries around the world observe Heart Month in February

LONDON — What are steps you can take beyond a healthy diet and exercise to improve your heart health? In this expert alert, Gosia Wamil, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, answers that question and more. 

Dr. Gosia Wamil
Gosia Wamil, M.D., Ph.D.

1. Does loneliness affect heart health?

Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to heart disease, Dr. Wamil says.

"Studies suggest that people who experience chronic loneliness may be at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases," Dr. Wamil says. "Social connections and supportive relationships contribute to overall well-being, and the lack of these connections can lead to increased stress, inflammation and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, all of which can impact heart health adversely."

Socializing is generally good for heart health, Dr. Wamil adds.

"Positive social interactions can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve overall emotional well-being," she says. "Engaging in social activities, spending time with loved ones and building a solid social support network can protect the heart."

2. How does alcohol affect the heart?

"While moderate alcohol consumption may have some cardiovascular benefits, excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias," Dr. Wamil says. "It's crucial to adhere to recommended guidelines for alcohol intake and consult with a healthcare professional about individual risk factors."

3. How can someone tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack?

"Heart attack symptoms often include radiating pain to the left arm, your jaw or back. Other symptoms can be nausea and sweating," Dr. Wamil says. "Panic attacks may involve a sudden surge of intense fear and discomfort, often with a feeling of impending doom."

Dr. Wamil advises against guessing the answer to this question.

"If unsure, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms suggestive of a heart attack, as this condition requires prompt evaluation and treatment," she says.

4. What signs or symptoms should you watch for in your overall heart health?

Signs of potential heart issues include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, and irregular heartbeats. It's important to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical attention if they occur, especially if they are severe or persistent.

5. How can you protect your heart health during festive times, when food is plentiful, and you may not exercise as often?

It's all about mindfulness, Dr. Wamil says.

"Pay attention to portion sizes and avoid overindulging in high-calorie and high-fat foods," she says.  "Moderation is vital when it comes to alcohol to prevent potential heart issues. Keep your body active by incorporating physical activities into your festive routines, helping to counteract the effects of increased calorie intake. Manage stress with techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing, as stress can impact your heart health."

Avoid highly processed foods that contain added sugars, excessive salt and trans fats, and limit saturated fats in red meat, full-fat dairy and fried foods, she adds.

"These simple steps can contribute to a healthier and happier festive season for your heart," Dr. Wamil says.

6. What are some heart-healthy foods that people can work into their meals?

Heart-healthy foods include fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, Dr. Wamil says.

"Whole grains are also important," she adds. "Oats, quinoa and brown rice provide fibre and nutrients."

When it comes to protein, focus on lean options, such as fish, beans, legumes and skinless poultry. Also consider working in healthy fats by adding avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil to your diet, Dr. Wamil says.


About Mayo Clinic Healthcare
Mayo Clinic Healthcare, located in London, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit academic medical center. Mayo Clinic is ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report in more specialties than any other hospital for a reason: quality of care. Mayo Clinic Healthcare is the U.K.'s front door to that unparalleled experience. Visit Mayo Clinic Healthcare for more information.

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