UA Sarver Heart Center Cardiologists Emphasize Basics As Best For Heart Health


If one point emerged from recent heart-health education programs at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, it’s that the basics are often best for your heart.

“Every day at the Sarver Heart Center we conduct technologically sophisticated, life-saving cardiac procedures, but often the most important intervention we provide is to remind our patients of the basic lifestyle changes that make such a difference in risk for heart attack and stroke,” said Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the UA Sarver Heart Center and chief of the Division of Cardiology. Kicking off the UA Sarver Heart Center’s Healthy Heart Day 2015, she cited a study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, which observed 20,721 healthy Swedish men - ages 45 to 79 - for 11 years. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, noted men could reduce their heart attack risk by 80 percent if they made five lifestyle changes. “I believe these also apply to women and Americans,” said Dr. Sweitzer.

Here’s how these lifestyle changes stack up:

• 36 percentage heart attack risk reduction attributed to not smoking.

• 18 percent reduction by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish.

• 12 percent reduction by maintaining a waistline of 37 inches or less (for men). (For women, this waistline circumference would be about 35 inches or less.)

• 11 percent reduction by drinking fewer than two alcoholic drinks per day. (Probably one drink per day for women.)

• 3 percent reduction for moderate daily and weekly exercise routines.

1 percent – the percentage of study participants who exhibited all five of the healthy habits.

For the past 20 years, Charles Katzenberg, MD, cardiologist and UA clinical professor of medicine, has offered an educational program in Tucson called the HEART Series, which emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle – including a good diet, exercise, community engagement and stress management – as the best prevention against heart disease.


As the Healthy Heart Day keynote speaker, Dr. Katzenberg shared his top tips for heart health. For starters, don’t try to do everything at one time. That’s a formula for failure. Start taking steps in one area so you’ll succeed.

Dr. Katzenberg added some details to the tips outlined by Dr. Sweitzer:


1.    Find your own healthful diet. There are so many diets. The only one that is right for you is the one that you choose and can stick to. Run away from the Standard American Diet (SAD) – meat, dairy, eggs, processed food, fast food, fried food, desserts, added sugar, processed grains (white bread, white rice, white pasta), added salt, low fiber. The SAD diet is associated with increased heart attacks, cancer and strokes. Start walking toward a whole-foods, plant-based diet – fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), whole grains, nuts, seeds, fiber, small amounts of lean meat and fish, and low-fat dairy. This diet is associated with decreases in heart attacks and strokes.

2.    Avoid weight gain. While a normal Body Mass Index is in the 18.5-24.9 range, the 25-30 range can still be a heart-healthy zone.

3.    Get moving. Exercise aerobically – walk, jog, bike, swim, do circuit weights or aerobic exercise classes – three to four hours each week. Include a few minutes of warm-up and cool down in each session. Add two 30- to 60-minute sessions of light-to-moderate weight lifting. Exercise safely.

4.    Avoid smoking. Using tobacco products carries an extremely high risk for future heart disease or stroke. Heart disease risk falls quite rapidly after quitting. Many people need multiple attempts to quit successfully. E-cigarettes are tools to help quit smoking, but long-term effects are unknown; so, only use these while stopping cigarettes.

5.    Know your numbers, especially blood pressure (120/80 or less) and cholesterol numbers (LDL less than 100; HDL at least 40 for men and 50 for women) and, if necessary, follow treatment prescribed by your doctor to keep these under control.

6.    Manage your stress. Stress is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and is associated with elevated blood pressure and poor lifestyle choices in areas of diet, exercise, smoking and weight management. Learn to recognize unhealthy stress and use tools and mechanisms to reduce its impact. Some people relax by reading a book or listening to music. Others benefit from tai chi, meditation, yoga or exercise. Find out what works for you and do it 30 to 60 minutes each day to reduce the impact of unhealthy stress. Seek help if you need to learn ways to manage your stress.

7.    Be involved in a community you enjoy. This could be as simple as sharing a meal with friends or family, volunteering, participating in an education or fitness class, a book club or a religious group. Find what works for you.

“It’s important for people to understand these lifestyle basics can go a long way to help prevent heart disease and improve quality of life if you develop heart disease. Even for people with advanced heart disease, often basic treatments help the vast majority of patients live well,” said Dr. Sweitzer, who is a board-certified advanced heart disease and transplant cardiologist.    Return to Newsletter