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Be Good to Your Heart – Your Life Depends On It

     Commit to a heart healthy lifestyle and then own the lifestyle. Good health habits will open the door to an active, productive and fulfilling life in our senior years. Many of us need appropriate and regular healthcare, surgical operations, prescription medications, and dietary supplements to treat a variety of illnesses. However, the blessing of good health depends most importantly on achieving healthy lifestyle habits.

     Cholesterol is essential to our bodies, but can also lead to serious heart and vascular problems such as heart attack and stroke. Blood cholesterol values should be checked regularly and one should understand and know of these numbers. Some will need a statin or other prescription drug to manage cholesterol. All who have an abnormal cholesterol should include exercise, weight control, and healthy nutrition in their plan as well.

     The majority of people will acquire high blood pressure beyond the age of sixty. Control of blood pressure often requires one or more drugs. Whether drugs are needed or not, patients with high blood pressure should eat healthy foods, minimize salt, achieve ideal weight, and commit to a regular schedule of aerobic exercise. Anyone with high blood pressure should consider purchasing a digital arm blood pressure device to regularly take home blood pressures. The technique is easy and a diary is kept to take to visits to your doctor.

     A heart healthy diet means a plant based diet. The Mediterranean diet offers healthy, plant based nutrition. The diet is rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, olives and olives oil, fish, legumes, and nuts. The meat portions are small and foods high in processed sugar are best avoided. Prepared foods found in boxes, cans, and jars are not part of the diet. Obtaining groceries at local farmers’ markets and shopping around the periphery of supermarkets are heart protective activities.

     Obesity is a huge epidemic in the U.S. The majority of people are either overweight or obese. Overweight children will age burdened by avoidable illnesses such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, in addition to knee and hip problems later in life. The BMI number is a good indicator of weight status. One can easily obtain a BMI chart online to calculate the BMI number. By knowing weight and height, the BMI number is easily read from the chart. Normal BMI is 20 to 25. 25 to 30 is overweight. Over 30 is obese. Normal weight status protects the heart.

     Tobacco in all forms causes severe injury to the heart and blood vessels. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes all produce damage through oxidation and inflammation. Tobacco is one of the rare products that is harmful when use as directed.

     One in three U.S. adults live with diabetes or prediabetes. Inadequate control of blood sugar leads to a variety of illnesses including heart and vascular problems. Diabetes management includes the disciplines of aerobic exercise and weight control as well as medications.

     Regular aerobic exercise protects the heart and blood vessels from a variety of problems that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Aerobic exercise prescriptions include walking, swimming, rowing, dancing, plus any activity that exercises large muscle groups. Walking two miles per day in forty minutes on most days of the week will lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

     Good sleep habits will also benefit your heart. Most adults need six to eight hours of sound sleep every night. Some people will need prescription sedatives or supplements to fall asleep and stay asleep. Taking benadryl for sleep risks injury to the memory function of the brain and should be avoided or used sparingly. A safe alternative to benadryl is melatonin. An excellent essay on good sleep hygiene is “ No More Sleepless Nights” by Peter Hauri, Ph. D.

     Many social habits are protective for your heart health and overall health as well. Take the initiative and regularly make new friends. Get to know your neighbors better. Have fun in what you do, day in and day out. Get a dog and your new companion will teach you some of the important lessons for a happy and healthy life. Deal with anger and frustrations promptly and then let them go. Eliminate or at least minimize the negativities in life. Forgive. All such habits are good for heart health. An entertaining and instructive book is “Lessons from Lucy” by Dave Barry.

     Let’s make the next decade the best for you and your heart. Learn about, commit to, and then own a healthy lifestyle and lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Dr. Kalush, cardiologist

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