Here’s how a top cardiologist protects his own heart…

When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, most cardiologists make general recommendations—get regular exercise, eat a balanced diet and don’t smoke. But wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly what a doctor who specializes in heart disease does to keep his/her own heart healthy?

To find out, Bottom Line Health asked Joel K. Kahn, MD, a leading cardiologist, what he does to ensure that his heart stays strong. Here are his personal heart-health secrets, which he recommends—whether you want to prevent heart disease or already have it…

SECRET #1: Drink room-temperature water. You may not expect an MD who was trained in mainstream Western medicine to practice principles of the ancient Indian wellness philosophy of Ayurveda. But many of these lifestyle habits do carry important health benefits.

For example, according to Ayurvedic medicine, room-temperature water spiked with lemon or lime is good for digestive and cardiovascular health. Because the esophagus is located close to the heart, swigging ice water can cause changes in the heart’s normal rhythm in some people.

What I do: If I don’t have time to prepare a glass of lemon water, I always drink a big glass of room-temperature water before I get out of bed. Here’s why: We all get dehydrated during the night. Drinking water pumps up the liquid volume of blood, which reduces the risk for blood clots.

I also drink a lot of liquids throughout the day. How much do you need? Divide your weight in half. That’s the number of ounces you should drink. A person who weighs, say, 150 pounds, should drink at least 75 ounces (about nine cups) of fluids, including water, every day.

SECRET #2: Make time for prayer and reflection. There’s a strong link between stress and cardiovascular disease. One landmark study found that heart patients who experienced high levels of stress—along with depression, which is often fueled by stress—were nearly 50% more likely to have a heart attack or die than those with more emotional balance.

What I do: I like meditation and prayer—my routine includes counting my blessings before I get out of bed in the morning and saying a few prayers. I also appreciate the simple miracles of sunrises, hugs and special friends and family.

Other stress reducers: Listening to music and taking long walks.

SECRET #3: Do fast workouts. Exercise is crucial to keeping your heart strong, but it’s sometimes hard to fit this into a busy schedule. I exercise before breakfast (see below) and eat within 30 minutes after finishing my workout.

What I do: My usual morning workout (six days a week) includes 20 minutes of cardio—on a treadmill, recumbent bike or rowing machine—followed by about 10 minutes of weight lifting.

When I don’t have time for a half-hour session, I may do just 12 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This typically includes a two-minute warm-up of fast walking on the treadmill, followed by eight minutes of intervals—running all-out for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of walking. I follow this with a two-minute cooldown of slow walking.

HIIT increases cardiorespiratory fitness, builds muscle and reduces inflammation and insulin resistance (which promotes diabetes). Important: HIIT is strenuous, so check with your doctor before trying it.

SECRET #4: Have a healthy breakfast. Millions of Americans skip this important meal. That’s a problem because skipping meals has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and elevated cholesterol.

Specifically, men who skipped breakfast were found to be 27% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who ate a healthy breakfast, according to a study in the journal Circulation.

What I do: To save time, I get my breakfast ready the night before. I fill a glass container with oatmeal and almond milk and let it soak in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, all of the liquid is absorbed, and it’s soft and ready to eat. I stir it well and top with a few tablespoons of chopped dried figs, unsweetened coconut flakes or sliced berries. For variety: I have a “super smoothie” with antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as kale, spinach, frozen blueberries, flax, etc., and organic soy or almond milk.

SECRET #5: Use heart-healthy supplements. Dietary supplements aren’t the best way to treat cardiovascular disease (although they can help in some cases). Supplements are better for preventing heart problems. Note: Check with your doctor before taking any of those listed here—they can interact with some medications.What I take (follow dosage instructions on the label)…

  • Magnesium glycinate, which is easily absorbed. People who get enough magnesium (millions of Americans are deficient) are less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who don’t get adequate amounts of the mineral.
  • Vitamin D. The evidence isn’t yet definitive but suggests that vitamin D may improve heart health.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). It is a vitamin-like substance that lowers blood pressure and can improve symptoms of heart failure.

SECRET #6: Eat a plant-based diet. It’s been linked to a reduced risk for diabetes and certain types of cancer as well as heart disease.

What I do: I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 40 years. I eat foods with a variety of colors, such as berries and peppers. For me, a huge salad can be a meal! I also enjoy a handful of raw nuts every day.

SECRET #7: Get enough sleep. People who sleep at least seven hours a night are 43% less likely to have a fatal heart attack than those who get by on six hours or less.

What I do: I usually get up at 6 am, so I make sure that I’m in bed by 11 pm. I also plan a good night’s sleep. For example, I stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least 10 hours before bedtime (this means that I have nothing with caffeine after 1 pm)…and usually stop eating three hours before bed—active digestion makes it harder to fall asleep and increases nighttime awakenings.

Another trick: I have a sleep–promoting bulb in the reading lamp on my nightstand. Typical lightbulbs emit high levels of short-wavelength blue light, which suppresses the brain’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. You can buy bulbs (such as the Good Night LED or the GE Align PM) that emit small amounts of blue light.