Be Smart When It Comes to Your Heart
Simple lifestyle changes can reduce your
risk of heart disease, doctors emphasize. And it's never too early
to start. Many young adults and even children are showing warning
signs of heart disease that could lead to major health problems
later in life.
genetics play some role in the development of cardiovascular disease,
there are many risk factors that are what doctors call "modifiable."
With a little effort, you can eliminate or control them.
Here are six important strategies
to minimize your risk:
- Stop smoking. On this score,
most are doing pretty well. Since 1965, smoking in the United
States has declined by more than 40 percent among people aged
18 and older, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
- Exercise. "The minimum amount
should be the equivalent of brisk walking for 30 minutes three
to four times a week," says Dr. Zi-Jian Xu, a cardiologist at
Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center in California. Dr. Kris Vijay,
a cardiologist and director of clinical research and heart failure
at the Arizona Heart Institute, urges people to do even a bit
more -- 30 minutes five times a week, or two and a half hours
total weekly. He tells people to jog, play tennis, walk -- do
anything to keep moving.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
"A major risk factor for heart disease is obesity," says Vijay.
"We know that one third of America is now obese. That obesity
is perpetuating the chain" of risk factors, he says. Obesity can
lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, each
of which boosts the risk of heart disease. Keep your body mass
index (BMI) below 25 -- the recommended cutoff for optimal health.
- Eat healthy. That means
a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, few fried
foods, and go easy on the sugar. "Don't add sugar," Vijay warns.
"It's not a good thing. The natural sugars in bananas and oranges
are better than plain refined sugar." The AHA recommends a nutrition
plan that includes five or more servings of fruits and vegetables
a day; six or more servings of grain products; fat-free and low-fat
milk products; fish; beans; skinless poultry; and lean meats.
Fats and oils such as tub margarines or olive oils should have
2 grams or less of saturated fat per tablespoon, the AHA says.
- Control high blood pressure.
One in four adults has high blood pressure, the AHA estimates.
Exercise and eating healthfully, paying particular attention to
lowering salt intake, can help lower blood pressure. If those
strategies don't work, blood-pressure lowering medications can
- Manage diabetes. Adults
with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart
disease, the heart association warns. Type 1 diabetes can be controlled
with insulin. Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can be controlled
through proper nutrition and exercise.
If your family doctor or internist
doesn't bring up the need to pursue a heart-healthy lifestyle, you
should broach the subject. "A lot of primary-care doctors have not
paid enough attention to risk factor modification," Xu says.
Then there are the doctors who pay
attention but the patients who don't. "Patients have high blood
pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and they tend to ignore it
and don't take medication or don't take enough," Xu says.
The AHA offers a guide
to healthy nutrition. To calculate your body mass index, click
Reference Source 101