It’s important to focus on your cardiovascular health year-round. That’s why we sat down with Sunitha Siram, M.D., an internal medicine doctor and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health HEB and at Texas Health Internal Medicine in Bedford, to discuss a few things you can do every day to keep your heart healthy.
It can be hard to focus daily on your heart health, especially if you’re not currently experiencing any issues, something Siram hears far too often.
“A common misconception I hear is ‘it can’t happen to me’ or ‘I don’t have any family history of heart disease so I’m fine,’” she says. “Be aware of symptoms and be proactive, family history or no family history.”
One of the first beneficial things you can do for your heart health is to quit smoking. Yes, you may have heard this time and time again, but for good reason! Smoking not only puts stress on your body by stealing oxygen and affecting your blood vessels, but it also introduces carcinogens, carbon monoxide and “soot” into the body from the smoke.
If you smoke, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack, four times more likely to die of heart disease and three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death.
If you are a smoker and are ready to quit, thinking about quitting, or want to help someone else to quit, talk to your doctor or health practitioner about giving up smoking.
Regular, moderate exercise is great for your heart health, and the best part is, studies have shown that it’s never too late to start and get the benefits! The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of rigorous aerobic activity spread throughout the week. That equates to about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Maybe you’re the type to knock it out during the workweek so you can relax on the weekend or commit to working out every other day. There are no hard and fast rules, just get moving!
If you need a little guidance, Texas Health has nine fitness centers open to the public and staffed with knowledgeable experts to help coach you every step of the way.
Control Your Blood Sugar
Diabetes is among the strongest risk factors for heart and vascular disease. In fact, people with type 2 diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke and two to four times more likely to die from heart disease compared to those who don’t have diabetes.
Elevated blood sugar makes your blood thicker and harder to pump, stressing the heart. It also contributes to the weakening of the body’s tissues (including the arteries and smaller blood vessels) that results from long-term elevated blood sugar. Conversely, people with blood sugar that is too low also suffer a greater risk of heart problems.
To maximize heart health, blood sugar levels should be maintained in a healthy mid-range as much of the time as possible, something your primary care physician can work with you on managing.
Watching Your Cholesterol Levels and Eating a Balanced Diet
Just how watching your blood sugar levels is important, Siram notes that keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels can help prevent heart health issues since high LDL cholesterol is associated with a greater risk for heart disease.
“Good cholesterol (HDL) is cardio-protective,” she says. “High HDL levels tend to run in families, but you can raise your good cholesterol levels by exercising and eating moderate amounts of healthy fats, such as avocadoes, salmon, olive oil, flax seeds, and chia seeds.”
On the flip side, Siram notes that there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing,” which is why she places an emphasis on eating these healthy fats in moderation.
If you find you’re overdoing it, reduce your fat intake, such as consuming half an avocado a day versus a whole avocado.
Consuming a balanced diet can help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugars in balance. Emphasize eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, whole grains, and lean meats, and lessen the amount of processed foods you eat.
“Too much ultra-processed foods have been linked to lower heart health,” Siram says.
Manage Your Blood Pressure
Last but certainly not least, managing your blood pressure can have a big impact on your heart health. But high blood pressure is infamous for not having any symptoms, which makes that annual visit to your PCP even more important.
“A primary care provider can help monitor blood pressure, lipid levels, discuss family history, give guidance on healthy dietary and exercise habits, manage risk factors such as diabetes or smoking, and prescribe medication if needed,” Siram explains.
Blood pressure that’s high over a long time is one of the main risk factors for heart disease.
A blood pressure reading under 120/80mmHg is considered optimal. Readings over 120/80mmHg and up to 139/89mmHg are in the normal to high normal range.
It’s easy to take your heart health for granted, especially if you’re not experiencing any symptoms or issues. But the truth of the matter is, it’s the everyday things you do (or don’t do) that increase your risk of developing heart disease. But you don’t have to go it alone. Partnering with your PCP can help you stay on track all year long.
“See your doctor even if you just have fatigue or a change in your exertional capacity,” Siram explains. “A common symptom of heart disease can be heartburn that doesn’t go away, which can be easy to dismiss. Thankfully Texas Health has nutrition services, fitness centers and cardiac rehab if you already have heart disease to help you stay heart healthy year-round.”
Has it been a while since you’ve had your annual physical and checked your blood pressure? Finding a physician who can partner with you for your health is essential. We can help you find a physician that’s appropriate and convenient for you. Find a primary care provider or a heart and vascular specialist today.