In the COVID-19 world, heart health is more important than ever.

That’s why the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Charles Mild and other medical professionals are urging everyone to take care of their hearts through diet and exercise.

February is American Heart Month, but COVID-19 has been with us everyday for the past two years. While it has been devastating to people of all ages and ethnicities, those with comorbidities like heart disease have been especially hard hit, according to experts.

Mild, cardiologist at Valley Baptist Medical Center – Harlingen, said about 25 percent of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms will experience complications with their hearts. He said people with such comorbidities as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension are more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 symptoms and even death.

“If you have these typical risk factors for coronary disease and you develop COVID, the chances of having a more severe outcome are really high,” he said. “In addition, it’s making treating people in the hospital that have COVID that much more difficult because hospitals all around the country are packed.”

Mild said one of the best defenses against COVID-related heart complications is vaccination.

“Getting vaccinated against COVID is probably the best thing,” Mild said. “The people that come into the hospital are not the people that got vaccinated. In fact, we rarely see somebody with serious COVID that has been vaccinated.”

Beyond that, the next line of defense is maintaining good heart health through diet and exercise. Physicians have said all along that healthy living – which includes adequate sleep – boosts the immune system and thereby provides another defense against COVID-19 infection.

The American Heart Association is addressing the realities of COVID-19 and heart health on its website .

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” the site states, “we all feel like we’ve skipped a beat. Stress has soared while physical and mental health have declined. But now’s the time to ‘Reclaim your Rhythm.’”

The site goes on to share a number of programs people can use to get back into shape.

Mild said people should try to get 30 minutes of exercise a day.

“It doesn’t mean going to the gym every day or running races,” he said. “It simply means getting your heart rate up and staying physically active for 30 minutes. If you can’t do it right away, you just work yourself up to exercising every other day.”

COVID-19 threatens the heart because it causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain, heart, kidneys and other parts of the body, Mild has said in a previous article.

“COVID has devastating effects on the heart,” Mild said. “If somebody has a heart attack on COVID they are in serious trouble. If one is in poor shape, they don’t do well with COVID. Secondly, those that are in good shape may be less likely to develop symptoms or active COVID.”

So the best defense against catching a serious case of COVID-19 is to eat a healthy diet and to exercise regularly.

“If you’re exercising and breathing a lot, you’re keeping your lungs clean, and you don’t let the virus catch on and cause illness,” he said. “People that exercise have fewer heart problems. People that exercise have fewer problems with severe COVID. You put the two together, and you reduce instances of COVID and heart disease. And you’ve done some major advances in the treatment of disease, universal disease, that’s been made worse than COVID.”

And then there’s diet.

Mild has long hailed the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of vegetables, fruits, grains and lean meats like poultry and fish. The Mayo Clinic says this eating plan blends the basics of healthy living with the traditional flavors and cooking methods of the Mediterranean. More specifically, it is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil. It includes a weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs, moderate portions of dairy products and reduced red meat.


>> February is American Heart Month – a time when the nation spotlights heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans.

>> President Lyndon B. Johnson, among the millions of people in the country who had heart attacks, issued the first proclamation in 1964. Since then, U.S. presidents have annually declared February American Heart Month.