How a Cardiac Surgeon Keeps His Own Heart Healthy

From diet and exercise to emotional health, just about every facet of life can affect your heart. A doctor shares personal habits that can benefit anyone.

7:00 AM

Author | Kevin Joy

As a cardiac surgeon at Michigan Medicine, Jonathan Haft, M.D., knows the value of a healthy heart. And he knows that the decisions, however small, we make each day can lead to future trouble.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

"There's no question that bad lifestyle choices are the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease," says Haft, an associate professor of cardiac surgery and anesthesia at the University of Michigan Medical School.

But there are simple, effective ways to lessen that risk. Haft offered some easy-to-adopt tips with insights based on his own habits:

Eat a balanced diet: Foods high in fat and cholesterol can clog arteries, raising your risk of heart attack and stroke. Key to good cardiovascular health, then, is keeping produce and fiber-rich foods in the kitchen. For Haft, breakfast on the go typically includes a grapefruit or banana. Family dinners at home focus on vegetables and lean proteins (red meat is an occasional indulgence, he says). Also important is a willingness to cut out processed foods. "Things like fast food are low-hanging fruit," Haft says. "This is an easily modifiable risk factor."

Get active: Exercise is essential for managing weight, cholesterol and blood pressure. And, with the proper safety precautions, it's never too late to start. Haft, for example, picked up hockey for the first time at age 40. "You have to make it fun; if it's a chore, you're never going to stick with it," Haft says, adding that the energetic late-evening games with a local rec league team are a highlight of his week.   

SEE ALSO: 7 Surprising Things That Can Hurt Your Heart [Infographic]

Reduce stress: Chronic stress can raise heart rate, blood pressure and even your bent for vices such as junk food or alcohol. Haft finds respite with family, assisting his three daughters with schoolwork and supporting their many extracurricular activities. Beyond that, he jogs from his Ann Arbor home to work at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center — about a four-mile commute — when possible. "It doesn't add much time to my day," Haft says, "and it's a great way to organize my thoughts."

Jonathan Haft, M.D., with his three daughters.

Hit the hay: Support your heart with sleep. Getting enough rest (seven to eight hours nightly) is associated with lower blood pressure and higher metabolism. Establishing proper sleep habits at home can make clocking sufficient shut-eye easier. Adds Haft: "There's no question that uninterrupted sleep is important in reducing stress as well as improving thought and effective work habits." Which is why he advises his own medical residents to take time off when they feel overly tired.

Know your family history: You have control over personal health habits. Genetics? Not so much. So finding out which first-degree relatives, if any, have had heart disease is a vital part of gauging your risk. "If patients know they have a strong history, they need closer follow-up and potential screening," says Haft, noting that many of his patients lack this knowledge. "It also tells them that they need to pay even more focus to their own lifestyle choices."

More Articles About: Heart Health Preventive Cardiology Frankel Cardiovascular Center Cardiovascular: Preventive Cardiology
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories Illustration of a magenta heart with white plaque on a golden background.
Health Lab
What is heart disease?
Tanuka Piech, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center, answers questions about heart disease, why we should care and what we can do to help prevent it.
Woman sweating hot flash fan
Health Lab
Menopause and migraines: New findings point to power of prevention
Women who have both migraines and a long-term history of hot flashes and/or night sweats have a slightly higher risk of heart disease and stroke, and young women who have migraines have a higher risk of later persistent menopause symptoms.
News Release
Statewide cardiovascular consortium, hosted at Michigan Medicine, receives national award for patient safety, quality efforts
A collaborative partnership dedicated to improving statewide cardiovascular care and outcomes — hosted at Michigan Medicine — received national recognition for efforts in patient safety and quality. BMC2 received the award for its significant improvements in the documentation of radiation use, a decrease in high-dose radiation exposure and reduction in opioid prescribing rates for patients.
Hitinder Gurm, M.D. wearing a blue shirt, striped tie, and a Michigan Medicine branded white lab coat, standing next to a pillar
News Release
Hitinder Gurm, M.D., appointed chief medical officer of University of Michigan Health
Hitinder Gurm, M.D., has been selected to be the academic medical center chief medical officer (CMO) for University of Michigan Health.
Animated illustration of weight loss drug container with a heart
Health Lab
Should heart patients consider taking weight loss medications?
Cardiologist shares how weight loss medications may impact cardiovascular health.
A dentist operates on a patient at Exalta Health in Grand Rapids
Health Lab
Using telehealth to serve disparate populations
A collaboration between Exalta Health and University of Michigan Health-West is a creative method of bridging language, financial, and technology gaps between patients and health care providers.