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Love Your Heart


Take these steps to prevent heart disease.


Heart disease is not only the leading cause of the death in the United States, it is also a major cause of disability. Preventing heart disease means making smart lifestyle choices that will affect the rest of your life. By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar at normal levels, all of which are factors in lowering your risk for heart disease.

“There are some risk factors of heart disease that we cannot control such as our age, gender, race and family history. That’s why it’s extremely important to be proactive about the steps we can take to help keep our hearts healthy,” says Mallory K. Cantero, MSN, FNP-C, a family nurse practitioner at Crescent City Physicians, Inc. “Lack of exercise, a poor diet and other unhealthy habits will take their toll over the years. You are never too young or too old to take care of your heart. By taking simple steps to keep your heart healthy, you can form good habits that will last throughout your lifetime.”


1. Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Have your blood pressure checked at least once per year (more often if you have high blood pressure).

2. Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control. One of the most important steps you can take to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease is to limit how much saturated and trans fats you eat. “High blood cholesterol levels can lead to atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaques in your arteries,” Cantero says. “This will increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. High levels of triglycerides also may raise the risk for coronary artery disease, especially in women.”

3. Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight leads to other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes. By maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index, you can decrease these risks considerably.

4. Eat a healthy diet. The best way to eat healthy is to limit saturated fats, eliminate trans fats and minimize foods high in sodium and sugar. “Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Cantero says. “People do not realize that the biggest preservative in our food is salt. Read your food labels to avoid consuming too much salt and sugar, especially for salad dressings and condiments. You should stay within 2,000 mg per day of salt and 20 grams of sugar. Instead of flavoring your food with salt, use Ms. Dash, olive oil or lemon. Use Stevia as a sweetener instead of sugar. Eat more fruit and vegetables, while limiting bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. And remember, gluten free does not mean healthy, carb free or calorie free. Also, eat whole wheat bread and cheese the way you enjoy chocolate, in moderation.”

5. Get regular exercise. Exercise strengthens your heart, improves your circulation and helps you maintain a healthy weight. According to Cantero, your exercise goal should be to do High Interval Intensity Training, which incorporates short bursts of high intensity cardio work with less intense active recovery. “Start with a goal of 30 minutes of exercise three times per week with 10 of those minutes being high intensity, then increase your goal weekly to eventually reach 15 minutes of high intensity work five days per week with 15 minutes of weight bearing exercise/active recovery,” she says. Before beginning any HITT regimen, talk to your health provider first.

6. Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and cause weight gain. According to the American Heart Association, men should limit their alcohol intake to no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women, to one per day.

7. Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to improve your overall health. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. “If you smoke and currently have heart disease, quitting will decrease your risk of dying from other chronic diseases and reduce your risk of a second cardiac event,” Cantero says. “It is never too late to quit. There are programs available that offer smoking cessation medications at no cost to you. If you are interested in quitting, please contact your healthcare provider today.”

8. Manage stress. Extreme stress can be a trigger for a heart attack. Some ways to help manage your stress include exercise, listening to music or meditating.

9. Manage diabetes. Having diabetes doubles your risk of developing heart disease. “Over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels,” Cantero says. If you have diabetes, check with your healthcare provider for ways to keep it under control.

10. Get enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you raise your risk of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Those three things contribute to your risk for heart disease. “This is one of the most overlooked steps in heart disease prevention,” Cantero says. “Most adults do not realize that getting six to eight hours of sleep per night can help manage their stress levels. There are little things you can do to ensure you get a good night’s rest. If you keep your bedroom dark and cold (current recommendations are 60 to 67 degrees) and limit the activity in your bed to sleep and sex (no reading), you will get a better night’s rest. Consider your bedroom your sanctuary and use it as place to relax and wind down from the day’s activities.”

Your risk of heart disease increases with age. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older have a greater risk. “Some risk factors may affect heart disease risk differently in women than in men,” Cantero says. “For example, estrogen provides women some protection against heart disease, however diabetes raises the risk of heart disease for women. Race or ethnicity also play a factor in risk for heart disease. African Americans are more likely than whites to have heart disease, while Hispanic Americans are less likely to have it. Finally, you have a greater risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age.”

Mallory K. Cantero, MSN, FNP-C is a family nurse practitioner at Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro. After earning her BSN degree from LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, Mallory went on to complete her Master of Science in Nursing at University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2015. She is board-certified by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Cantero’s previous nursing experience includes pediatrics, med-surg and emergency room care. She is qualified to diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions across the entire lifespan. Cantero believes in establishing a rapport with patients to help understand their healthcare needs and goals so that they can collaborate to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses all aspects of personal health including mental, physical and nutritional health.