Love Your Heart – 10 Things to Improve Heart Health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The American Heart Association lists three major risks for heart disease that you can’t alter: increasing age, gender (men have greater risk than women and tend to have attacks earlier in life), and heredity (those with heart disease in their family or who are of black, Mexican, American Indian, native Hawaiian and some Asian descent).

While these can’t change, you can mitigate your risk with lifestyle. Here are 10 tips from local health providers:

1. Don’t rely on quick fixes. “To improve one’s lifestyle, there are usually two main factors: diet and exercise,” said Andrew M. Weinberg, doctor of osteopathic medicine, cardiologist with the Upstate Cardiovascular Group and medical director of the Non-Invasive Vascular Lab. “Adhering to a heart healthy diet and regular exercise is the best way to stay healthy and reduce one’s chances for developing chronic conditions such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus and atherosclerotic disease: coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease/stroke and lower extremity peripheral arterial disease.”

2. Be proactive. “Identify high-risk behavior and change it before the onset of an illness or disease begins,” said Russell Silverman, cardiologist with St. Joseph’s Health. “A single intervention can prevent a number of life-shortening diseases. Secondary prevention involves screening for a disease if you are at-risk for that disease. This includes chest CT scans to detect lung cancer in smokers or being evaluated for the possibility of cardiovascular disease if you present risk factors.”

3. Control existing conditions. “This may mean better controlling diabetes, better controlling cholesterol, better controlling blood pressure, quitting smoking, and routine examinations for diseases,” Silverman said.

4. Limit alcohol. “Alcohol consumption is allowed, but in moderation only,” Silverman said. “This mean no more than two alcoholic drinks daily.”

5. Eat right. “Eat plenty of protein to help skin and muscle stay strong,” Silverman said. “Healthy protein sources include chicken, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and soy products. Limit your red meat consumption. Avoid high fat foods and saturated fats, especially those foods labeled as trans-fat. These are particularly unhealthy and are found in fast foods and some butter substitutes. They are much less common than they have been in the past. Limit salty foods and avoid sugary soft drinks and other highly sweetened foods. Always try to reduce sugar intake.”

6. Control your weight. “The morbidity and mortality associated with being overweight — body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 kg/m² for greater than 30 kg/m² for obesity — have been known to the medical profession for thousands of years,” Silverman said. “The optimal BMI is greater than or equal to 18.5 kg/m² and less than 25 kg/m² in a healthy Hispanic, black, or Caucasian individual, according to the World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health. It is equally unhealthy to be underweight with a BMI of less than 18.5 kg/m². Waist circumference is also a measure of obesity. Waists that measure greater than 40 inches in men and greater than 35 inches in women is considered elevated.”

7. Get active. “According to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, you should be get 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week,” said Amy Bidwell, Ph.D, associate professor and chairwoman of department of health promotion and wellness at SUNY Oswego. “Perform dynamic movements so movements that utilize multiple muscle groups such as walking, swimming or cross-country skiing. You do not have to go to the gym to keep your heart healthy. New research now states that even getting your 30 minutes in a day can be negated if you are sitting all day. Therefore, it is better or equally important to be active all day. Therefore, get up and move for five minutes every hour. It can be something as simple as walking up the stairs a few times every hour or something to get the large muscle groups of the body moving every hour.”

8. Avoid tobacco. “Tobacco is a big risk factor for heart disease,” said Joshua W. Harrison, cardiologist with Crouse Medical Practice. “A year after quitting, risk drops to half that of a smoker.”

9. Get check-ups. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t visit a physician regularly or check their blood pressure,” Harrison said. “At least check it at the drug store. Longstanding hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease. Untreated diabetes is a significant cardiac risk factor.”

10. Don’t overdo. “Mental health is very important,” Harrison said. “Reduce stress, anxiety and depression. All are associated with heart disease. Exercise, meditation and yoga help some. See a counselor if you have problems with anxiety or depression. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep at night. Sleep apnea is an under-diagnosed problem. If you fall asleep while doing things or feel tired all day, talk with your doctor about potential sleep apnea or disorder. Too little or even too much is associated with heart disease.”

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