How a cardiologist stays heart healthy

Friday, February 6, 2015

By: Dr. William Witmer

A healthy heart is vital to leading a long, fruitful life. As a cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Cardiology, I’m often asked how I stay fit and avoid unneeded stress on my heart and cardiovascular system. It’s easier than most people think and, like a New Year’s resolution, the focus should be getting into a routine which makes any transition to an improved lifestyle much easier. Having a healthier heart doesn’t require dramatic lifestyle changes, and as you’ll read, small activities can make a big difference.



I’ve decided to divide how I stay heart healthy into three categories: diet, activities and atmosphere. You’ll see how each allows me to stay fit, and will allow my heart to properly function for years to come.


Diet: Controlling our food intake can go a long way in helping our cardiovascular system functioning properly. There are some foods that I seek out and others that I deliberately avoid. Let’s start with the good stuff. Keep healthy snacks around the house and office. Their nutrition will help you feel better, and eating them is a great way to start your day or quench those cravings you’ll likely get as the day goes on. Hunger-relieving snacks I keep include nuts (especially tree nuts like walnuts, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts and almonds) and yogurt. Be sure to get healthier types of yogurt, not those loaded with added sugar. I tend to drink a lot of water and green tea; I really enjoy all-natural, no-sugar added pomegranate, acai and blueberry juices too. I eat meat in sensible quantities and am sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. A low cholesterol diet is very important. Eggs are healthy again so don’t be afraid to add them to your diet! They are filled with protein and vitamins to keep you feeling full for a long time. For dessert, enjoy some chocolate, focusing especially on the all-natural, dark kind.


Unhealthy snacking is among the leading culprit s for an unhappy heart. Be sure to keep unhealthy snacks out of your home and office – keeping junk food out of convenient reach is half the battle. I avoid chips of any kind, along with pretzels, any fried food, cookies and crackers, fast food, buns, baked goods, pastries, doughnuts and muffins when possible. Soda or pop, depending on which part of the country you’re from, is also something I definitely avoid. Know too that neither regular or diet soda is good for you.


I find I often eat several small meals through the day, as opposed to a few large ones. This tends to help me prevent a visit to the vending machine or craving unhealthy snacks.


Activity: Exercise is another important factor in my heart health; and this can be easier than you think. You don’t have to visit the gym every day for hours at a time to get healthy. Of course joining a gym or visiting with a personal trainer is something that I recommend, but there are small things you can do throughout the day to help your body. I have a quiver full of short bodyweight exercises I do through the day. Squats, calf raises, leg lifts – can all be done at the grocery store, pumping gas or wherever! These are things I do when I can’t make a commitment to a long exercise session. When I do have time, I like going to the gym and I practice yoga regularly. Yoga is great for heart health. Its positions can be done on the go, with many of the same benefits as a long class. Lastly, I like to do some form of exercise as soon as I wake up and right before bed, especially if I had a late-night snack.


Atmosphere: These are things I do, seek out or avoid to put less stress on my system. I am an advocate of spending time with family and friends who have a positive influence on my life, and who I thoroughly enjoy. I’m also an advocate for some type of meditation or faith practice daily. This can be as simple as a short prayer or just some quiet time alone for reflection; relaxation is the goal here. I like to spend time outdoors hiking, skiing, biking and fishing. Besides the exercise I get, they offer a calming effect and are things I enjoy. Enjoying nature has been shown to improve heart health so be sure to get outside when you can.


February is American Heart Month and it’s important to get heart-fit. Getting started is the first step to a heart-healthy lifestyle, and it’s also the easiest. These are a few things I do to stay heart healthy, how about you?

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.