February is heart awareness month in the U.S. Heart disease is the nation’s primary cause of death, so here are some practical guidelines to help you keep a tip-top ticker:
1. Don’t Smoke. This obvious and simple recommendation is an absolute prerequisite to good heart health. The incredible damage that smoking causes to the heart, blood vessels and the rest of the body is irrefutable. A person who will not stop smoking is unlikely to make other lifestyle changes necessary for significant heart disease prevention. In addition, the adverse effects of smoking cannot be overcome by any of the following other interventions.
2. Maintain Ideal Body Weight. Healthy dietary and activity patterns can promote good heart health. Being overweight contributes to a host of medical problems, including the “metabolic syndrome,” i.e. elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin levels and blood sugar. There is also a direct correlation between increasing weight and the need for cardiac and other medical care.
3. Heart-healthy Diet. Restrict your total daily calories to use up what you’re taking in. A low-fat, balanced diet is likely to be more beneficial to your blood vessels than fat-restricted or popular high-fat diets. High-carb/low-fat or low-carb/high fat diets are often difficult to maintain. The long-term health consequences of these diets are still uncertain.
4. Regular Exercise. The heart is a muscle, so it needs to be kept in shape. Exercise up to 30 to 40 minutes three to four times a week. Exercise more often to burn more energy and lose weight. Pick an exercise you will enjoy and stick with.
5. High Blood Pressure. Treat this condition aggressively! Even small elevations in blood pressure can put you at increased risk for heart attack, stroke and other complications. Exercising, avoiding salt and losing even a little weight can do wonders for your blood pressure. If you’re on medicines, take them regularly.
6. Cholesterol. Everyone age 20 and over should have a cholesterol check. Get it checked younger if you have a strong family history of high cholesterol. Diet and regular exercise have a big effect on keeping it normal. If yours is high, treat it fervently.
7. Aspirin. Studies repeatedly show that men over age 40 and women over 50 can benefit from a daily low-dose aspirin. Aspirin may help prevent both heart attacks and strokes. The optimal dose is 81 mg. to 325 mg. per day.
8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fish oils contain these healthy fatty acids. Eating fish regularly or taking fish oil capsules of 1000 mg/day can help to promote good heart health.
9. Vitamins. Current data show no conclusive evidence that mega-doses of vitamins provide any meaningful heart benefits. If you’re eating well-balanced meals, you should be getting all the vitamins your body needs for the day. If you’re not, a single standard multivitamin is sufficient.
10. Emotional Well-being. Mental stress can manifest itself in physical ailments and reduce our body’s ability to keep itself whole. Good quality relationships, mental and physical exercise and engaging in social activities can help to keep us mentally and physically healthy. Work hard and play hard.
The content in this column is for informational purposes only. Consult your physician for appropriate individual treatment. Dr. Reynolds practices Family Medicine in Chesterfield.