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Seven Simple Steps to Heart Health



February 08, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

By Sion Roy, M.D., cardiologist and professor of medicine, UCLA Harbor Medical Center, and California Medical Association member.

Like many Californians, you want to get healthier in 2017. You found your sneakers and dusted off the treadmill and maybe even started a yoga class. Now you’ve got to find the time in your day — 30 minutes minimum for heart health — to get physically active. You’re off to a great start to help prevent heart disease, the number one killer of American men and women.

It may not be at the top of most to-do lists, but caring for your heart through a healthy diet and regular physical activity is the secret weapon to preventing heart disease. More than one in three adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 80 percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented. And, prevention can be as simple as making the healthy choice most of the time.

There are seven simple things you can do that will improve your cardiovascular health, which the AHA calls “Life’s Simple Seven.” These measures have three things in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take, and even modest improvements to your health can make a big difference. Start with one or two. This simple, seven-step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have — to live a long, productive healthy life.

Manage Your Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. As a cardiologist at a large public hospital, I regularly see patients who are admitted with hypertensive emergencies that compromise their heart. This is particularly troubling, because I know that earlier diagnosis and control of their hypertension would likely have kept these patients out of the hospital. Hypertension can be easy to control with regular doctor visits and medication compliance. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys — which keeps you healthier longer.

Control Your Cholesterol: High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Statins in particular are a class of medications that lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, and have been shown to benefit the heart in large groups of patients. Almost all of my patients are on statins, because I believe that these drugs benefit most patients. Talk to your doctor about this class of medications, which are now generic and more affordable.

Reduce Your Blood Sugar: Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves. You or someone you know are likely living with diabetes. Diabetes is among the strongest risk factors for heart disease. Reducing sugar intake help prevent the onset of diabetes. If you are diabetic already, you know how critical this is.

Get Active: Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love. Simply put, daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life. Being active can be as simple as walking on a daily basis. We all live busy lives, but taking time out of each day to be active will benefit your heart, and probably your psyche as well!

Eat Better: A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy — for life!
Lose Weight: When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. You give yourself the gift of active living, you lower your blood pressure and you help yourself feel better, too. Eating better is also key to losing weight (see above)!

Stop Smoking: Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Quitting and staying off cigarettes is probably the hardest task on this list, but it can be done. Almost all my patients who have quit smoking after being longtime smokers have needed help doing it, either with a nicotine patch or other medication. Don’t just try to quit cold turkey — talk to your doctor about how he or she can help.
My most important advice to you is to partner with your physician. We can help you understand your current health and can give you advice on setting — and reaching — your heart health goals in 2017 and beyond!

Dr. Roy is a professor of medicine and a board-certified cardiologist at top-ranked UCLA Harbor Medical Center. He is a member of the California Medical Association and the Los Angeles County Medical Association.

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