By Powell Jose, M.D.
It should be no surprise to anyone that following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are two things we doctors recommend to support heart health. While living a healthy lifestyle is certainly widely promoted, both within and outside the medical community, the fact remains that heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., causing about one-quarter of all deaths.
As a cardiologist, I have a bird’s-eye view of behavior that can enhance or detract from patients’ abilities to both prevent and recover from cardiovascular issues. It’s particularly troubling to see so much denial — especially among men — that they even have a problem, as well as the power to do something about it. Nothing concerns me more than having to treat people, or in the worst-case scenario, see patients pass away, when I know their conditions might have been preventable.
Those who are in the high-risk categories for heart disease need to be especially diligent in eliminating behaviors that are detrimental to heart health. This includes people with a family history of heart disease as well as those who are obese, smokers, diabetic and suffering from high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Given the prevalence of heart disease, however, everyone should adhere to the following heart-healthy tips:
* Get your lipids (cholesterol) and blood pressure regularly checked, as your doctor recommends. Those at high risk who have multiple risk factors or symptoms may want to consult with a cardiologist.
* Eliminate as much saturated fat and trans fat from your diet as you can.
* Eat a diet rich in whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans and fish.
* Limit your sodium intake to help lower or prevent hypertension.
* Follow an exercise regime that’s suitable for your age and risk factors. There’s no need to be a serious athlete; 30 minutes of aerobic exercise—even walking—four to five times a week will be fine for most people.
In addition to being proactive in supporting the health of your heart, it’s equally important not to ignore potential symptoms of heart trouble such as indigestion, chest discomfort, excessive fatigue and shortness of breath with exertion. I see many patients who never thought they had cardiovascular issues…until they had a heart attack.
You also should be aware that getting older will move you into the high-risk group, but that doesn’t mean younger people should take the threat of heart disease lightly. Minimal data is available regarding high cholesterol treatment of young people, but studies involving some Vietnam War casualties showed the beginnings of atherosclerosis in soldiers in their 20s. The takeaway from that is it’s never too early to start young people on diet and exercise regimes that will promote their long-term health.
— Powell Jose is a cardiologist with Sutter Medical Group in Sacramento