February is Heart Health month. Diseases of the heart have been the long-standing primary cause of death in the U.S. until just recently when cancer took the number one spot. Here are some practical tips to guide you toward maximizing your cardiovascular (CV) health:
- Don’t Smoke. This obvious and simple recommendation is an absolute prerequisite to good CV health. Continuing to smoke will essentially eclipse every other lifestyle change and intervention to prevent CV disease listed below. The incredible damage that smoking causes to the heart, blood vessels, and the rest of the body is irrefutable.
- Maintain Ideal Body Weight. Healthy dietary and activity patterns can promote good CV health. 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 medical care.
- Heart-healthy Diet. Restrict your total daily calories to use up what you’re taking in. A diet low in saturated fats that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and nuts is likely to be more beneficial to your blood vessels than any highly restricted fad 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.
- Regular Exercise. The heart is a muscle, so it needs to be kept in shape. Exercise up to 30-40 minutes 3-4 times a week. Exercise more often to burn more energy and lose weight. Pick an exercise you will enjoy and stick with it.
- High Blood Pressure. Even small elevations in the blood pressure can make you at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, or other complications. Exercising, avoiding salt, and losing weight can do wonders for your blood pressure. If you’re on medicines, take them regularly.
- Cholesterol. Everyone age 20 and over should have a cholesterol check (younger if you have a strong family history of high cholesterol). Diet and regular exercise have a huge effect on keeping the levels normal. If yours is high, treat it fervently.
- 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. Check with your doctor to see if aspirin is appropriate for you.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fish oils contain these healthy fatty acids. Eating fish regularly or taking fish oil capsules can help to promote good CV health.
- Vitamins. Current data show no conclusive evidence that mega-doses of vitamins provide any meaningful benefit. If you’re eating well-balanced meals, you should be getting all the vitamins your body needs for the day.
- 10. Emotional Well-being. Mental stress can manifest itself in physical ailments and reduce our body’s ability to keep itself healthy. Quality relationships, mental and physical exercise, and engaging in social activities can help to keep us mentally and physically whole. 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.