Keeping your heart healthy should be a top priority. Give your heart the attention it deserves by following these recommendations by the American Heart Association (AHA) for maintaining a healthy heart and preventing heart disease. Small changes can make a big impact.
Stay Active and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Dr. Lance Garner, an interventional cardiologist with INTEGRIS Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City, says the benefit of exercise begins with the physiologic, cellular-level effects on the heart arteries and the heart muscle itself.[pullquote]“Genetics often play a big factor in how high a person’s LDL is,” says Dalton. “So, we often get help from medications. While statin drugs often draw criticism, they are generally safe and well-tolerated, and reduce LDL cholesterol by 35 to 55 percent.”[/pullquote]
“First, exercise preserves the natural, vital physiologic reactivity of our coronary arteries, which allows our heart arteries to appropriately dilate or constrict under different physiologic conditions,” says Garner. “Secondly, it improves the heart’s efficiency at oxygen consumption and utilization. Overall, both of these help the heart perform its job as a pump at maximum efficiency with much less effort and with less energy expenditure.”
The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.
“Extra weight puts a higher work load on the heart,” says Dr. Chris Dalton, a family medicine physician at Warren Clinic in Jenks. “Obesity in general is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, lower HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and high triglycerides. Belly fat is even more concerning – it’s a key indicator for metabolic syndrome: high blood glucose, low HDL, high triglycerides and elevated blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome significantly raises one’s risk for heart disease.”
Control Your Cholesterol
To address high cholesterol levels, Dalton recommends a diet low in saturated fats (animal fats, fried foods and dairy products) and high in omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts and fish oils. He also suggests exercise. However, he adds that while this diet helps raise HDL levels and lower triglycerides, it can be a struggle to lower LDL, also known as the “bad” cholesterol.
“Genetics often play a big factor in how high a person’s LDL is,” says Dalton. “So, we often get help from medications. While statin drugs often draw criticism, they are generally safe and well-tolerated, and reduce LDL cholesterol by 35 to 55 percent.”
Eat A Heart-Healthy Diet
To help you stay on track, Garner says to keep your eating plan simple. If a diet is too complex, it often becomes overwhelming and too hard to sustain.
“I encourage portion control and a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and meats low in saturated fats, such as fish or chicken,” says Garner. “I advise sodium restriction with three simple rules: 1) avoid the salt shaker; 2) avoid sodium where it’s hidden, such as in processed, packaged or preserved foods, fast food restaurants and vending machines; and 3) seek out low sodium versions of some of the foods you already eat.”
Manage Blood Pressure
And Reduce Blood Sugar
According to the AHA, one in three Americans has high blood pressure. However, one out of every five doesn’t know they have it. If you’ve been told you have elevated blood pressure, Garner says to take the news seriously.
“Do your research to better understand its causes, its potentially devastating consequences and ways to curtail it,” he says. “Be proactive and take it upon yourself to start a home blood pressure diary. I too often see patients passively not engaged in their own blood pressure monitoring and not employing simple lifestyle changes that can have huge effects on blood pressure management.”
For those with high blood sugar, Dalton explains that specific testing can reveal a 90-day average blood sugar level and help you and your physician develop a plan to lower it. His office helps patients identify carbohydrates, what the body turns into glucose (blood sugar), in their diet. The common culprits include bread, rice and items made from flour. However, some vegetables are high in carbohydrates, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn (and anything made from corn), peas and butternut squash.
“Once we teach them about carbs, we ask that they limit [themselves] to two carb servings with every meal,” he says. “A carb serving is one (normal sized) open palmful of food. We also recommend they add exercise – 30 minutes, three to four days weekly. This brings down sugars as well.”
The list of benefits is long when it comes to quitting smoking. Along with overall better health, Garner shares that it reduces your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease – and more specifically you can reduce your coronary heart disease risk within one to two years of quitting.