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Bayview Cardiologist Shares Tips for Heart Health

January 30th, 2016

By M. Lucas Gambill, DO

February is National Heart Awareness month, and it is an excellent time for reflection on our heart health.  Atherosclerotic heart disease remains the leading cause of death in both men and women worldwide and accounts for roughly thirty percent of all deaths globally.  In the United States, cardiovascular disease is responsible for about one in every seven deaths, and spending to address heart conditions amounts to over $300 billion each year.  Despite advancements in cardiovascular medicine, the prevalence of atherosclerotic heart disease remains high. 

It should be noted, however, that many of the chronic health conditions and traditional risk factors associated with the development of atherosclerosis are largely treatable and preventable. Every day, I see firsthand the effects of not actively caring for oneself and what that can do to the human body.  I care for people whose lives are drastically affected by poor health choices made throughout a lifetime.  Taking ownership of one’s health is undoubtedly one of the single most important things anyone can do to avoid heart ailments. 

In today’s society, roughly two-thirds of adults and one-third of adolescents are overweight or obese.  It is well known that leading a sedentary lifestyle and not being mindful of one’s diet can ultimately lead to the development of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes – all of which are significant risk factors for atherosclerotic heart disease.  Simple lifestyle modifications such as participating in regular, daily physical activity and dietary discretion can lead to drastic improvement and sometimes resolution of these conditions.  Patients who make healthy lifestyle modifications through exercise and diet often have to take fewer medications to bring their blood pressure, lipid, and glucose levels to goal.

Experts suggest that to improve overall cardiovascular health, most people should engage in moderate intensity physical activity, such as a brisk walk or recreational bicycling, for thirty minutes each day, at least five times per week.  While this can be difficult to manage given work and family responsibilities, even a small amount of self-care in the form of exercise is better than nothing.  Setting forth and adhering to realistic, manageable goals is likely to yield tangible cardiovascular health benefits in nearly everyone, no matter what their level of fitness. 

A number of quick daily exercise regimens have become available via Apps in the last few years. Perhaps the most widely known is the 7 Minute Workout (covered in the New York Times), but there are many alternatives offering a range of exercises and intensity.  Exploring these to see which exercise approach may fit within your daily routine and is appropriate for your level of fitness is a great way to prioritize your heart health during Heart Awareness Month.

Healthy dieting is also essential to achieving and maintaining proper cardiovascular health.  Limiting the consumption of saturated and trans fats, sodium, red meats, processed foods, & refined sugars is an important step to eating right.  Generally speaking,  a heart healthy diet should consist of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins such as fish, nuts and poultry, as well as low fat dairy products.  Both the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approach to Reduce Hypertension) diets outline healthy dietary patterns that can be easily adapted based on caloric requirements and personal and cultural food preferences.

In addition to regular physical activity and modest changes in diet, consuming alcohol in moderation and abstaining from tobacco products altogether are also strongly recommended for optimal cardiovascular wellness.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than an average of one to two alcoholic beverages a day for men and one alcoholic beverage a day for women.

In my opinion, it is never too late to make changes that can positively impact your cardiovascular wellness.  Every day presents an opportunity to better yourself by making sound choices that can improve your health for the rest of your life.