You Are Never Too Young — Or Too Old — To Take Care of Your Heart
Preventing heart disease (and all cardiovascular diseases) means making smart choices now that will pay off the rest of your life.
Lack of exercise, a poor diet and other unhealthy habits can take their toll over the years. Anyone at any age can benefit from simple steps to keep their heart healthy during each decade of life. Here’s how:
All Age Groups
No matter what your age, everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and adequate physical activity. • Choose a healthy eating plan. The food you eat can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.
• Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish – at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds, and try eating some meals without meat. Select lower fat dairy products and poultry (skinless). Limit sugarsweetened beverages and red meat.
If you choose to eat meat, select the leanest cuts available.
• Be physically active. You can slowly work up to at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) per week, or one hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (e.g., jogging, running) or a combination of both per week.
Additionally, on two or more days a week, you need muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). Children should get at least 60 minutes of activity every day.
It is important to keep in mind that walking less than 5,000 steps per day is considered sedentary and increases your risk of heart disease. In comparison, more than 10,000 steps per day are optimal to benefit from reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Smoking is a controllable risk factor! If you do smoke, quitting smoking can be the single most important step you can take toward a heart-healthy lifestyle. Quitting smoking not only reduces risk of heart attacks but also reduces your risk of abnormal heart rhythm and blood clots. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in quitting smoking and need help.
• For those with high blood pressure, keep an eye on how well your blood pressure is controlled once treatment is started. High blood pressure is often called a “silentkiller” because it causes damage to blood vessels over the years without specific blood any immediate, symptoms.
Lowering high pressure not only significantly reduces the risk for heart disease but also reduces progression of kidney disease.
• It’s never too early or too late to learn the warning signs of a heart attack. Not everyone experiences sudden numbness with a stroke or severe chest pain with a heart attack. And heart attack symptoms in women can be different than in men. Notice having even minor chest pressure or heaviness, particularly on routine physical activity (like going up a flight of stairs). This may be due to a blockage of blood vessels to your heart. Make sure to schedule a visit with your doctor or a cardiologist to see if you need any specific testing or medications.
If you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, you should still make good choices to minimize the impact on your lifestyle and length of life. New developments in the prevention and treatment of heart disease include but are not limited to:
Advanced lipid testing and imaging tools such as coronary CTA can also help with a refined cardiovascular risk assessment.
Several newer medications for type 2 diabetes mellitus (such as SGLT-2 inhibitors) have been shown to have remarkable cardiovascular benefits when used appropriately. Additionally, they help patients lose a little weight while improving their glucose levels. When used in certain patients with heart failure, these medications have been studied to have beneficial outcomes even in the absence of diabetes.
High cholesterol levels are among the most significant and modifiable risk factors for heart disease. Statins are currently the most often prescribed medication to help lower cholesterol levels due to the extensive studies confirming their efficacy and safety. Certain newer medications (such PCSK9 inhibitors) can cut LDLcholesterol (often labeled as “bad” cholesterol) levels by as much as 50% and minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease even more when used with maximally tolerated statins. This can significantly alter their outcomes for specific high-risk patients with or without heart disease.
Pratik Agrawal, M.D., is assistant professor, the Division of Cardiology, at LSU Health Shreveport. Concerned you may have heart disease? Please join the LSUHS Center for Cardiovascular Diseases and Sciences, Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport and the American Heart Association on Oct. 1, Heart Health Day, for free educational materials and screenings. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Mary Medical Center, 1 Saint Mary Place, Shreveport.