If you’ve taken the steps to cease and desist some of your more unhealthy habits, it’s now time to add some healthy ones to your arsenal. Putting a priority on heart health will allow you to have a fulfilling and active lifestyle and will contribute to fewer visits to the doctor.
Your first task should be to check your family history. If you have relatives who have suffered heart attacks, you are likely at risk too; genetics can be one of the best indicators of heart health. Ethnicity is also a factor; some races are more genetically disposed to heart disease than others. If high blood pressure runs in your family, you need have an annual physical to keep you in the know. “Hypertension can goes unrecognized, especially in younger adults,” says Dr. Lokesh Tejwani of Novant Heart Health & Heart Vascular Institute in Matthews. “It’s a silent killer because it can lead to heart attack, stroke, loss of vision, or kidney disease.”
Chronic inflammation is another condition to be aware of. “People with chronic inflammation are at a much higher risk of heart attack,” explains Philip Iuliano of the Sanger Clinic in Mint Hill. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a recognized example of inflammation, but a more overlooked (and relatively unknown) area of concern is the mouth; swollen and tender gums can indicate an elevated risk for heart attack. Both gingivitis,(red, painful gums), and periodontitis, (infected pockets in the gums) are potential red flags. That’s because when bacteria spreads below the gum line, it gets into the blood stream and passes through the heart. Plaque develops in the arteries, congesting them and limiting blood flow, creating an environment that could lead to stroke. So what do you need to do? You probably brush your teeth twice a day and that’s a good start. But do you floss? That’s a must as well. Flossing keeps the bacteria from collecting under your gums and getting into the bloodstream. “Making sure to visit your dentist every six months for a thorough cleaning will lower the risk of dangerous inflammation in your gums,” advises Dr. Iulaino.
If you are more couch potato than competitor, now is the time to change and start moving around. “Sitting is the new smoking,” acknowledges Dr. Tejwani. “Your goal should be to walk 90 minutes four to five times a week.” That does not mean you must get your 90 minutes in all at once. Taking several walk breaks a day should get you to that goal without a problem and more importantly, according to Dr. Tejwani, it reduces the risk of mortality by 30%. He also recommends a standing desk for people who sit in front of a computer all day. “It allows you to get your work done without sitting down and you also burn calories throughout the day.”
Finally, make some small heart-healthy changes to your diet. Eliminate unhealthy foods and add vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and healthy fats (otherwise known as Omega 3 Fatty acids). This is a diet that is extremely heathy for the heart because it lowers cholesterol, a primary contributor to heart attack and stroke.
If you commit to making changes and getting on board the heart-healthy train, you might still regularly see your doctor. But hopefully it will be at the gym rather than in the examining room.