Heart disease is the leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. Between routine heart screenings and maintaining healthy habits over time, practicing preventive cardiology methods will help keep your heart healthy and strong.
Get ahead of heart disease
So, how can we get ahead of heart disease? Preventive cardiology is a medical specialty that identifies and manages heart disease to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. Talk with your primary care doctor about the steps you can take today for a heart-healthy tomorrow.
Heart disease can be asymptomatic for many years until the disease has progressed, so it’s always a good idea to put your heart at the heart of your wellness plan.
Heart disease is easier to treat when it’s detected early. If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to speak with your primary care doctor right away:
- An unusually slow, fast or pounding heartbeat
- Chest pressure that occurs or worsens with physical activity
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Long-lasting fatigue
- Persistent snoring or sleeping problems
- Pressure or aching in the chest or shoulder, particularly toward the left side of your body
- Shortness of breath
- Skin that appears bluish or pale gray
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, abdomen or around the eyes
- Unexplained cold sweats
Advanced Heart Failure Attending Physician Jenica Upshaw, MD shares tips on how to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association reports that nearly 80% of all heart disease cases are preventable. One of the best ways to lower your risk of heart disease is by maintaining a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol. Because most people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol don't know they're living with these conditions until they become problematic, it's important to stay on top of your health with routine primary care visits.
The ideal cholesterol level varies by age and risk factors. Ask your doctor what's heart-healthy for you. People with higher-than-normal cholesterol levels have a higher risk of developing clogged or narrowed blood vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle.
Cholesterol is a natural substance that travels through your bloodstream on proteins called lipoproteins, which come in 2 forms.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as bad cholesterol because it increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes. LDL is bad because it contributes to the plaque that clogs blood vessels.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered good cholesterol because it helps lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes. HDL is good because it helps remove LDL from your blood vessels.
High blood pressure
If your blood pressure is 180/120 or greater, call 911 immediately.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a dangerous condition that impacts nearly half of adults in the U.S. according to the CDC. It occurs when the force of blood pressing against artery walls is consistently too high.
While high blood pressure requires a long-term care approach, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Family history of heart disease
Having a family history of a heart disease doesn’t mean you’re destined to live with the same conditions as your loved ones. But it's important for us to monitor your heart health regularly and look for ways to reduce your risk, like a heart-healthy diet or exercise plan.
People are at an increased risk for heart disease when:
- A direct male relative (father or brother) was diagnosed with heart disease or had a heart attack by age 55
- A direct female relative (mother or sister) was diagnosed with heart disease or had a heart attack by age 65
It only takes 30 minutes a day to fight heart disease. Advanced Heart Failure Attending Physician Jenica Upshaw, MD stresses the importance of exercise and knowing your risk factors if you have a family history of heart disease.
Some health factors can only be discovered through regular health screenings. We call this paying special attention to your numbers. It’s important to receive regular health screenings to get the latest numbers for your cholesterol and blood pressure.
We can better understand your risks and plan to get ahead of them by first exploring these reviews and tests:
- A physical exam with special attention placed on your heart
- Blood tests to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers
- Discussing your family medical history
- Echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), as needed
- Review your medical history
The real secret to wellness is maintaining healthy habits over time. How you eat and move today can protect you from heart disease in the future. It's never too early to exercise more, eat a balanced diet or quit smoking. In fact, people between the ages of 35–44 who quit smoking can live, on average, 10 years longer.
There are a few healthy habits you can fold into your life to lower the risk of heart disease, even if you have cardiac risk factors:
- Avoid or treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes
- Eat a good diet
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- No smoking
Not only can these approaches reduce your risk of heart disease, but they can also add valuable years to your life.
Lowering your blood pressure + cholesterol
Lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol by 10–20% cuts your risk of heart disease in half. Some of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure include:
- Avoiding stressful situations, if possible
- Eating less sodium, sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods
- Getting at least 8 hours of restful sleep each night
- Losing excess weight
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
- Regularly engaging in low-impact exercise (about 30 minutes every day)
- Taking medication to lower blood pressure
You can often control cholesterol levels by:
- Eating healthy
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Not smoking
If you have a high risk for heart disease, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicine on top of recommending diet and lifestyle changes. They may also prescribe medicine if you have an inherited condition that leads to high cholesterol.
At first, your cholesterol level may need to be checked every 3 to 6 months until it maintains a normal range. Then, you may need to check it just once a year.
Diet + exercise
About 20% of all heart disease can be prevented through regular exercise and a balanced diet. For good heart health, there's no substitute for regular exercise. Spending 30 minutes briskly walking each day is still significantly better than spending those 30 minutes not moving at all.
The largest reduction in premature death rates occurs between inactive people and people who engage in about 3 hours of moderate activity each week. And with higher levels of physical activity, risk levels continue to decline.
According to the American Heart Association, the main goal is to get your heart rate pumping to a healthy exercise level, or around 50–70% of your maximum heart rate, according to the American Heart Association.
So, how do you know if you've hit a moderate exercise stride?
An easy way to tell is if you can't easily carry on a full conversation during the activity. This allows the heart and muscles to deliver and extract oxygen more efficiently. The easier the exercise becomes with time, the more efficient your heart becomes.
But what if you're sitting for more than 8 hours a day?
Sitting for more than 8 hours a day can even reverse some of the positive effects of exercise. Standing up for a quick stretch or walking for a couple of minutes every hour is a great way to reduce health risks associated with prolonged sitting, whether that's through using a standing desk or taking a quick lap around your workplace.
Standing up for a quick stretch or walking for a couple minutes every hour is a great way to reduce health risks associated with prolonged sitting. Standing up for a quick stretch or walking for a couple minutes every hour is a great way to reduce health risks associated with prolonged sitting. Up to 40% of heart disease cases are preventable, and the secret to wellness is maintaining healthy habits over time.