How 3 Cardiologists Look After Their Heart Health
How 3 Cardiologists Look After Their Heart Health

How 3 Cardiologists Look After Their Heart Health


Studies show our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, high stress levels, poor diet and rising rates of anxiety and depression have led to an increase in adults being diagnosed with heart disease. While you might not give your heart health much thought, experts say the habits you lay down now matter more than you think. Here’s how three leading cardiologists keep their own heart in good shape.

Dr Smriti Saraf

Consultant Cardiologist at The Lister Hospital, Part of HCA Healthcare UK

Oats are a great way to start the day. Oats are among some of the best foods for our hearts as they reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). I start my day with a bowl of porridge sprinkled with walnuts, almonds, blueberries, cranberries and chia seeds, all of which contain nutrients that are beneficial to heart health. Making changes to your diet is one of the most impactful things you can do for your heart – I’ve seen this time and again with patients.

Antioxidants are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. I make a conscious effort to eat foods rich in antioxidants – especially avocados, spinach, pomegranate and berries – weekly. They help protect blood vessels from damage, reduce inflammation, and contribute to optimal cardiovascular function. 

The occasional drink is fine. Interestingly, red wine and Guinness offer some potential health benefits when consumed in moderation. They both contain antioxidants that can help neutralise free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. Moderate consumption of red wine has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease due to its potential to increase HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce LDL cholesterol. I’d recommend limiting drinking to two to three days per week, not exceeding the advised 14 units. I don’t drink often, mainly at social events and at the weekend, but never excessively.

Exercise doesn’t need to be prescriptive. When it comes to heart health, the type of exercise you do doesn’t matter, as long as you are raising your heart rate for at least 30 minutes, three to five times per week. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym – brisk walking counts. If you burn the candle at both ends, yoga could be worth a try – studies show yoga is particularly beneficial for heart health due to its de-stressing element. My weekday mornings don't typically feature intensive exercise; instead, I reserve high-energy workouts for the evening and at the weekend. However, I try to fit in a brisk 3k walk to and from work instead of driving or taking public transport. Don’t underestimate the impact walking can have.

Two-and-a-half hours of exercise a week is my sweet spot. At the weekend, I spend two to three hours at my local health club. This time might be spent taking a spin class, playing tennis or lifting weights. Ultimately, find what works for you and what you enjoy. If you work from home, stand up and walk around for a couple of minutes every half hour. This may not sound like much, but small changes make a difference.

Mindfulness is linked to stress reduction. I incorporate mindfulness through yoga, Pilates and Buddhist meditation. Studies show practising meditation for 15 minutes a day reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke by 48%.

Vitamin D isn’t just for your bones. Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce cardiovascular inflammation. It’s one of the few supplements I take religiously.


Dr Tom Snow

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at The Private GP Group

I start the day with a two-mile run. Living in Devon, I have the luxury of beautiful countryside right on my doorstep. I enjoy running over Dartmoor and cycling along the river Exe – anything that increases my heart rate and allows me to maintain it. Working at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate (220) minus your age offers cardiovascular benefits. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure and increase levels of good cholesterol.

The heart is a muscle. Like all muscles, it requires regular exercise. I aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, which I spread over five days with two recovery days. As well as the physical benefits, exercise is also how I unwind. It reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is linked to cardiovascular risk.

I keep an eye on my HRV. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the difference in time between the beats of your heart. A higher HRV is associated with a healthier heart, with one study suggesting a low HRT is associated with a 45% increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Meditation keeps my HRV stable – it forces me to take a moment to breathe, clear my mind and settle stress levels.

A low-sugar diet is best. Sugar spikes can damage your arteries over time, and surges of insulin can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for heart disease. I eat a Mediterranean-style diet and limit refined carbs, processed food and salt. I look for high protein and slow-release energy food to start the day – either a bowl of porridge with protein powder, or scrambled eggs with avocado.

I eat most things in moderation. I avoid sugar and high-salt foods, but eat a small amount of red meat, and cook with lots of fresh vegetables and olive oil. I avoid processed food and never cook with salt, nor do I have it on the table. High salt intake is a significant contributor to high blood pressure, a condition one in four adults in the UK struggles with.

Excessive alcohol intake can lead to high blood pressure. Alcohol is not only high in calories but toxic to the heart when taken in high quantities. I see many patients with heart failure due to high alcohol intake. I don’t drink more than 14 units a week.

I don’t take supplements. A food-first approach to your health is far more important – we shouldn’t be relying on supplements. Omega-3 is the exception, especially if you don’t like or eat a lot of oily fish. Studies suggest a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a reduced life expectancy, similar to the impact of smoking.

Sleep is good for your heart. Over time, poor sleep can increase blood pressure, the leading risk factor for strokes. A lack of sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart, including higher stress levels, less motivation to be active and poor food choices. Don’t underestimate the power of a solid sleep routine. Since optimising my bedroom environment and bedtime habits, I sleep much better. I avoid caffeine after midday, avoid using phones and laptops in the bedroom and keep my room calm, quiet and dark.


Dr Vinit Sawhney

Consultant Cardiologist at Nuffield Health

Chronic stress takes its toll on the body. Stress – whether from a frantic commute, heavy workload or toxic relationship – can have real physical effects on the body, including your heart. Getting stress under control is vital for heart health, and for me this starts from the moment I wake up. I naturally wake at around 5am – I’ve never been in favour of waking up to the sound of an alarm clock, a sure-fire way to get your cortisol pumping. I spend around half an hour meditating to set the tone for the day.

Breakfast eaters tend to be slimmer than those who skip it. Diet plays a major role in heart health and has a significant impact on the risk of heart disease. What we eat for breakfast is crucial as it sets our blood sugar response for the day ahead and fuels the body with vital nutrients after fasting overnight. My go-to breakfast is a bowl of porridge with banana or avocado and boiled eggs. On the weekend, I’ll have a healthy version of a cooked breakfast – poached eggs, grilled bacon and sausages and brown toast. Get out of the habit of drinking your calories in milky lattes – this is doing your heart no favours.

When it comes to exercise, don’t overdo it. If you’re constantly experiencing muscle soreness, constant fatigue, low energy, or have hit a plateau with your training, chances are you’re doing too much. Take a few rest days and take a more measured approach to fitness – you should ideally be moving every day, with moderate intensity activity spread over four or five days of the week.

Spirituality may have beneficial effects on heart health. Numerous studies have shown religious practices and spirituality can reduce cardiovascular risk and improve quality of life. I’m a firm believer that mindfulness helps us reconnect with our inner selves and is an asset for heart health. I practise yoga regularly, which not only unblocks energy channels to leave you feeling strong, healthy, vibrant and peaceful, but it also makes you more aware of your body and leaves you more aligned. If you want to future-proof your heart, eat better, move more and manage your mind. 


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