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The #1 Worst Habit For Your Heart, Says Cardiologist

It's heart month and here's what to watch for.

February is heart month. In the best-case scenario, it's motivated some of us to consider booking that physical, look into a calcium-channel scan, or think about cutting down on the burgers and beer. But heart health is built every day, and the worst thing you can do for your heart is something that happens gradually and is easily overlooked or excused. Here's the latest on what cardiology experts consider the #1 worst habit for your heart, with advice from Dr. Peter Pollock of the Mayo Clinic, among others, and what you should do instead. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The #1 Worst Habit for Your Heart

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On the latest episode of the podcast What's Health Got to Do With It?, a panel of heart experts were asked for the #1 thing a person could do to prevent heart disease.

"The key thing is activity level," said Kimberly Powers, a cardiac nurse practitioner at Ascension Seton cardiology center in Austin, Texas. She noted that a study of people in their 90s found they had one thing in common: They got consistent exercise—at least half an hour, a few times a week. "Mobility is really important for longevity, but it's really important for heart care as well," she said, including managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. "The common denominator really is activity level."

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"The More You're Moving," the Better

Senior woman with short hair stretching arms

Dr. Pollock, an interventional cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, agreed. "Nothing could be more true," he said, noting that various measures of fitness — from how many pushups you can do to the walking speed of the elderly — are correlated with your risk of heart disease and death.

"The more you're moving, and the more you're remaining active at every stage of life will incrementally improve your chances with heart disease in a lot of ways, and ways we don't even fully understand," said Pollock. 

So there you have it: The worst habit for your heart is being sedentary. But how much exercise is enough? Keep reading.

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How Much Exercise Is Enough?

older man running up stairs, outdoor workout

These are the American Heart Association's official recommendations for exercise:

  • Everyone should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly. A combination of the two, spread throughout the week, is preferable.
  • Moderate-intensity activity includes anything that gets your heart rate up, such as brush walking, dancing, gardening, or leisurely biking. Vigorous activity makes you sweat and gets you a bit out of breath, such as running, swimming, hiking uphill, fast cycling, or jumping rope.
  • Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance training or lifting weights) at least twice a week.
  • Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
  • More exercise is better. You can reap even more health benefits by getting at least 300 minutes of activity a week.

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Any Amount is Better Than None

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Don't worry if you can't get to 150 minutes a week immediately. "Any amount of movement is better than none," the AHA says. "You can break it up into short bouts of activity throughout the day. Taking a brisk walk for five or ten minutes a few times a day will add up."

"You don't have to go from doing nothing to running marathons," Quentin Youmans, MD, a cardiology fellow at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told WOTV. "In fact, the biggest leap in benefit comes from doing nothing to doing something. Just start by dedicating yourself to doing some activity every day to get your body moving."

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Don't Forget to Eat Right, Too


Stick to a healthy balance of lean proteins, quality fats and foods rich in fiber. Be less concerned about dieting and more concerned about eating foods that nourish your body. According to Kevin Hall, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health, a staggering 80 percent of obese people these days who lose weight dieting will eventually gain it back again. That figure gets worse when you understand the consequences: a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last year analyzed data of 9,509 people and found that "yo-yo" dieting may actually double your risk of heart attack or stroke down the road if you suffer from heart disease. And to live your healthiest life, don't miss this life-saving advice I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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