Six Steps to a Healthier Heart

Health, Home & Family
on September 24, 2006

In Texas, cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke and coronary artery disease account for two of every five deaths, and will result in an estimated 55,600 Lone Star residents losing their lives this year.

While risk factors such as age and heredity can’t be changed, others can. Here are six steps to a healthier heart:

Keep blood pressure in check. Monitor your blood pressure against the optimal level of 120/80 and, if necessary, see a doctor about reducing it through diet, exercise and medication.

Monitor cholesterol levels>. The body needs the waxy, fat-like substance known as cholesterol to function normally, but excessive cholesterol leaves deposits in the arteries. An optimal cholesterol level is below 200. Know your level and which foods can elevate it, such as liver and eggs. Depending on other risk factors such as obesity, cholesterol should be checked as early as in your 20s and 30s.

Don’t smoke. Smokers are at greater risk for heart disease whether they use filtered or unfiltered cigarettes. Tobacco use can constrict blood vessels, elevating blood pressure and contributing to heart disease. When a person with a predisposition to clotting smokes, “you’re just asking for a blood clot to form in those arteries,” says Dr. James Wilson, director of cardiology education for the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston.

Weight control. Excess weight strains the body, making physical activity harder and increasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Obese and overweight people are not only at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, but also for arthritis-related disabilities and some cancers. “If there was one thing that really we could do for America, it would be lose weight, lose weight, lose weight,” says Wilson, who recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and salt.

Exercise. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Regular exercise reduces obesity, lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes. “You’re getting the blood moving and flowing, which is providing better oxygen in your system, which is obviously good for you and your heart,” says Jennifer Smith, manager of the Cardiovascular Health and Wellness Program of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Prevent or manage diabetes. Diabetes, which occurs when the body does not process blood sugar properly, can impair or destroy blood vessels. Obesity can cause type 2 diabetes for some adults, but children are increasingly at risk due to today’s higher rates of childhood obesity. Those with diabetes are at the same risk for heart attack as those who already have suffered a heart attack. Early detection is key, but prevention is even better through exercise and diet.

“One-third of us is going to be afflicted by blood vessel disease at some point in our lives, and it’s never too late to prevent it,” Wilson says. “The best way to do that is to not go looking for trouble. Don’t smoke. Maintain an ideal body weight. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise everyday. It’s just that easy.”