The best time to make diet and lifestyle changes for heart health is right now, says cardiologist

Jun 23, 2024 | 0 comments

By Gabby Landsverk

If you want to live a long, healthy life, the best time to pay attention to your heart health is right now, according to a doctor.

The biggest mistake people make about heart health is waiting until it’s too late to take action, Dr. Gregory Katz, a cardiologist at NYU Langone, said.

“People think it’s something that happens suddenly. Sometimes they look up and are like, ‘How the hell did I have a heart attack or stroke?’ The seeds are planted very early on,” Katz told Business Insider.

Your habits today, such as eating well and exercising, can make a big difference in protecting your heart and preventing heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes later in life, he said.

While medication can help, patients sometimes put off taking drugs that could help them manage their risk in favor of trying to change their habits first.

“Taking medication is not a moral failing. That’s an important message,” Katz said.

The trick is focusing on changes you can actually stick to, he added.

“People are not honest with themselves about what lifestyle changes they’re actually going to make,” Katz said. “A large percentage of patients tell themselves they’ll make changes, and suddenly five years later, their cholesterol is still high.”

To make heart-healthy habits stick, focus on making small, sustainable changes — one of the simplest is reducing your sugar intake from drinks, Katz said.

Cutting liquid calories can be transformative
High cholesterol and other heart-health risks are linked to diets high in processed food, added sugar, red meat, and saturated fat, which are common for the average American.

In contrast, diets for better heart health involve eating lots of veggies, whole grains, legumes, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil, which help lower your cholesterol.

But it can be tough to transform your diet overnight, and making too many changes at once can backfire

One of the simplest ways to make your diet more heart-healthy is to cut back on sweetened drinks or boozy beverages, Katz said.

“Drinking calories and drinking alcohol are the biggest modifiable risk factors. The number of people I see drinking 500 calories a day blows my mind,” he said. “Just because it’s simple doesn’t make it easy.”

Evidence suggests that sodas, juices, sugary coffees, and cocktails can all contribute to health risks such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

A dietitian previously told BI a good strategy to cut back on sweet drinks is to replace them with alternatives such as:

  • seltzer with a splash of fruit juice
  • unsweetened tea
  • water flavored with citrus or herbs such as mint

Swapping out liquid calories is a good first step to improving key factors for better heart health (and a longer life), such as healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels and stable blood sugar.

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