3 Essential Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy

Dr. Tommasino of Touro's Physician Assistant Programs Shares His Advice for Keeping Your Heart Healthy

February 14, 2020
hands holding a heart

February is officially American Heart Month, but doing everything you can to keep your ticker in topnotch shape should be an ongoing effort if you plan to live a long and healthy life.

Collectively in the U.S., we’re on the right track: life expectancy in the U.S. increased in 2018—for the first time in four years— to 78.7 years. That’s a good sign that we’re trending upwards in the healthy heart arena, but that said, it’s up to each of us to take care of our own.

So, how can we improve our heart health? 

Start with these three critical tips from Joseph Tommasino, PA-C, Ph.D., VP, PA Program Development and Operations, Touro College and University System—as well as Chairman of our Physician Assistant Programs, NE Division. With specialties in cardiology and cardiac surgery, he’s constantly attuned to the priorities of the American Heart Association. Read on.

1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. 

You’ve undoubtedly heard this tip before, but it bears repeating. One of the major risk factors that increase your risk of coronary heart disease is high blood cholesterol—but that’s a risk factor that you can modify, treat, or control in part with a healthy diet that comes down to simply making good choices. 

On a diet plan that has you yo-yo-ing back and forth? “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The longer you can keep your weight down, the healthier you’ll be. It’s better than not dieting at all if you need to manage your weight,” says Dr. Tommasino. Plus, most of those diets are low-carb, high-protein anyway, which can be good for your heart. A philosophy he likes to share: “Eat less, move more.” 

2. Move more (it’s easier than you think).

On that last note, Dr. Tommasino says that you don’t necessarily have to formally exercise to move more. “For example,” he says, “take the stairs instead of the elevator. Rather than driving a short distance to lunch, walk there and back.” Of course, formal exercise is an added bonus that doesn’t just help with weight loss, but also improves cardiovascular health, he adds. “Formal exercise is especially good for men and women who are getting up in age—for their joint health and musculoskeletal health.” 

Just starting out? Aim for 20 minutes, three times a week to begin. Your best first step though: check with your doctor. “You should never really exercise without seeing your doctor first, to make sure you’re heart-healthy and good to go,” he says. 

3. Be proactive about seeing your doctors.

Speaking of seeing your doctors, it’s up to you to practice preventive care and stay on top of all appointments that even healthy people should make. “You should certainly have a physical every year, and anybody over 40 should really have a stress test and perhaps a CAT scan of their heart—especially if there’s a relevant family history,” says Dr. Tommasino. 

In addition to your annual check-ups, be sure to stay on top of any medical and mental health conditions you have, get screened for diabetes, get a colonoscopy based on your age, and, if you’re a woman, a mammogram. You have to be your own advocate, he stresses. “Write down your questions and ask your medical professionals everything you need to know: from side effects of medications to what tests you should get.” The earlier you practice preventive care, he says, the better off you’re going to be.

What about sleep—how much sleep do we need for heart health?

Contrary to what you may believe, there’s no physiological reason for us to sleep—however, we know that we need to. “There are some people who can get away with four hours of sleep and they’re completely functional,” says Dr. Tommasino. “Then there are others who need 10 hours of sleep to properly function. The average is typically six to eight hours, but really, it comes down to your personal lifestyle.”

Next steps

Intrigued by the topic of heart health and interested in pursuing physician assistant studies yourself? Consider the Physician Assistant programs at the School of Health Sciences at Touro College. 

Not only does our physician assistant program follow the medical model of education, but everyone on our faculty is required to work clinically. The best teachers you can learn from, after all, are able to bring real-world experience right into the classroom the very next day. 

Learn more about our PA program