5 Things You Need to Do to Keep Your Heart Strong

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Russell Silverman, a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health in Syracuse.
Russell Silverman, a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health in Syracuse.

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart, which includes blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems and congenital heart defects. However, it is the variety or unhealthy behaviors we exhibit that can increase the probability of these symptoms.

“You only have one heart and it has to last you a long time,” said Russell Silverman, a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health in Syracuse. “It is similar to not taking care of the engine in your car. Once the engine goes, the car doesn’t run. Once you have done significant damage to your heart, it will cause problems with your other organs. If you are healthy to your heart and avoid problematic behaviors, your overall health will be good.”

Silverman discusses five risk factors when it comes to keeping your heart healthy.

1. High blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

“When you have high blood pressure and hypertension, you have a major risk for stroke and you risk congestive heart failure,” said Silverman. “I tell my patients you have to manage your blood pressure.”

2. Salt

Use fresh, rather than packaged, meats. Fresh cuts of beef, chicken or pork contain natural sodium, but the content is still much less than the hidden extra sodium added during processing in products like bacon or ham. If a food item keeps well in the fridge for days or weeks, that’s a tip off that the sodium content is too high.

“You have to manage your salt intake and make sure you drink water,” said Silverman. “We haven’t significantly changed the way we preserve food since the days of Christopher Columbus — using salt to prevent spoilage. You don’t want anything in your kitchen with a shelf life of one or two years because you know that means it has too much sodium.”

3. Diabetes

Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar or glucose. Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s also your brain’s main source of fuel.

The underlying cause of diabetes varies by type. But no matter what type of diabetes you have, it can lead to excess sugar in your blood. Too much sugar in your blood can lead to serious health problems.

“You don’t want your vessels and arteries to become stiff. You want blood flow to be smooth because blood runs through your body and provides what you need for your brain, eyes, kidneys, arms and legs. When you have any kind of constriction, health problems will follow.”

4. Cholesterol

Medical experts say to understand your health numbers from blood pressure to cholesterol. To understand high blood cholesterol, it helps to learn about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. However, we also put food in our bodies that elevates our cholesterol.

“We recommend a Mediterranean diet, which is high on healthy oils, nuts and healthy fats,” said Silverman. “Bad cholesterol can increase the chances of coronary diseases.”

5. Smoking

There has been a slow increase in e-cigarettes and vaping. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. Nicotine is the primary agent in both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and it is highly addictive. It causes you to crave a smoke and suffer withdrawal symptoms if you ignore the craving. Nicotine is also a toxic substance. It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and the likelihood of having a heart attack.

“Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health,” said Silverman. “It hurts other people with secondhand smoking and causes disastrous outcomes to your own body. Nicotine is highly addictive, and once stored in your body, it can cause tissue damage and damage the vessel wall.”