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VA Maryland Health Care System


VA Maryland Health Care System Offers Surprising Tips for Heart Health

February captures our hearts, and for good reason: Aside from beating for our Valentines, the heart comprises the center of the cardiovascular system. It sustains our lives through its various jobs, from transporting oxygen to protecting our immune systems. We can protect our heart health by making positive lifestyle choices, such as keeping our blood pressure in check, avoiding excessive fat in our diets to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels down, and by exercising. Like every muscle, the heart needs exercise and care to stay in tip-top shape. Heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S., strikes both young and old and is nothing to ignore. The Centers for Disease Control has calculated that someone in the U.S. suffers a coronary event every 25 seconds. Heart attack rates among younger women ages 35 to 54 have been rising steadily over the past two decades.

Cardiologists at the VA Maryland Health Care System offer tips to maintain good heart health.

  • Dr. Shawn Robinson, cardiology section chief at the VA Maryland Health Care System and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, recommends that all adults get a heart health screening every year by their primary doctor to check height, weight, blood pressure, an inventory of cigarette smoking, exercise and nutrition habits, and blood cholesterol and sugar levels, if necessary. “Exercise can be simple routines like walking up to 30 minutes a day,” Dr. Robinson says. “Other physical activities such as swimming, biking or even household chores are also beneficial because they involve the body moving, exercising muscles and burning calories.”
  • Dr. Michael Miller, a staff cardiologist at the VA Maryland Health Care System and professor of cardiovascular medicine, epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, recommends that keeping the heart healthy means learning how to de-stress. “Many people don’t realize that stress is a risk factor for heart disease,” Miller says. “When you’re under a great deal of stress, blood pressure tends to increase, you’re more likely to light up if you're a smoker, others will stop exercising and replace their veggies with ‘comfort foods’ that raise blood lipids,” Miller says.

Here are 10 surprising tips for your heart:

  • Potatoes contain a specific chemical compound that lowers blood pressure and slows aging of our brains.
  • Fermented foods such as cabbage and sauerkraut neutralize gut flora, complex microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, responsible for chemical byproducts that promote hardening of the arteries.
  • Garlic lowers cholesterol and blood pressure but to obtain this effect, the garlic should be crushed and lightly sautéed in oil rather than taken as a supplement.
  • Pungent spices such as capsaicin found in chili peppers, horseradish and wasabi activates energy-burning fat to reduce waist size.
  • The combination of walking and strength training reduces a woman’s risk of developing diabetes by two-thirds.
  • Hugging releases oxytocin, a hormone that not only elevates our spirits but also regenerates heart muscle.  Oxytocin may be the miracle cure for a broken heart. 
  • Listening to soothing music reduces inflammation and episodes of heart failure.
  • Laughing triggers the expansion of our blood vessels to keep arteries young and flexible.
  • Participating in medical research is great for the heart because a person receiving a “placebo” has a 30-50 percent lower risk of a heart attack than a non-participant of similar age and gender.

Editor’s Note:  To interview either Dr. Michael Miller or Dr. Shawn Robinson, please contact Rosalia Scalia, Public & Community Relations, VA Maryland Health Care System, at (410) 605-7464, or via e-mail at  Dr. Miller is also the author of the book Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and both physicians have joint appointments with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.