Take care of your ticker and it will take care of youWe put a lot of trust in our heart. “The heart
is responsible for feeding the rest of our body,”
says Dr. Thanh Nguyen, a cardiologist at
Touro Infirmary, Crescent Cit y Cardiovascular
Dr. Salman Arain, an inter ventional cardiologist at Tulane Universit y Heart and Vascular Institute, says it’s the ultimate machine. “It is a well-designed pump. It works nonstop from the time you are born to the day you die; there is no other machine that functions that long.”
Keeping the heart in good shape is especially important in New Orleans, where food and
drink are a priorit y. We have to make a conscious effort to take good care of ourselves here. “This area of the country is high-risk for cardiovascular disease, which is lifest yle-dependent. What
people have to understand is that cardiovascular events are preventable, at least at early ages, and individuals can modif y their outcomes,” says
Dr. Gary Sander, a professor of medicine and a cardiologist at Tulane.
There are three ways the heart works: It has a pumping function, an electrical function and a plumbing function, which moves the blood supplies of the heart.
“For most people, when we talk about heart disease, we talk about problems that occur in the blood supply to the heart itself, which leads to problems with the pumping function,” says
Arain. In the case of a heart attack, blood vessels that supply the heart have a blockage and part of that muscle dies. “Even though we tend to think of heart attacks as sudden events that bring people to the emergency room with chest pain,
it turns out that most people have blockages that develop over the course of years,” says Arain.
This is why prevention is key.
To improve your heart health, it’s important to set reasonable goals. “I tell my patients to get at least 30 minutes of activit y a day for five days
a week and do things like park farther away from the door so they can walk or to walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator and just stay active,” says Nguyen. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing physical
activit y. “You can do 10 to 15 increments five to
10 times a day, but the idea is to give your heart a workout from that stimulus that allows the heart to maintain its own health by building muscle,” says Arain.
Watch what you eat. “Stay away from fatt y foods, watch your salt intake and have high portions
of fruits and vegetables and a fiber-rich diet,”
says Nguyen. You should aim to have less than
1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. Unrefined whole grains are good choices because they
can help lower your cholesterol and make you feel full, which helps in managing your weight. Fish a few times a week, particularly those that contain omega-3 fatt y acid, can lower your risk of coronary artery disease. Avoid saturated fats because they tend to form the cholesterol that gets deposited. The Mediterranean diet is often recommended as well. “Take in foods that are
grilled or broiled as opposed to being fried,” says Arain. Remember that the best diet is one that includes foods from each of the food groups.
Avoiding both first and secondhand smoking is another factor we can control. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In addition to increasing the tendency for your blood to clot, smoking reduces your abilit y to tolerate physical activit y, which is essential
for a healthy heart. Sometimes it can take a few attempts to quit, but the key is to not give up trying. You may contact a local smoking cessation program or seek out support from family and friends as you go through the quitting process.
Talk to your doctor about things you can do to minimize your risk. “We have really good outcomes when patients stick to our plan,”
says Nguyen. If you have a preexisting medical condition like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol or you are obese, you should be screened by your primary care physician on a more regular basis for risk factors. Knowing your numbers is important. “There are treatment guidelines for specific numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes that we individualize to each patient while defining risk factors to see what we can accomplish reasonably,” says Sander. According to the American Heart Association, by keeping your blood pressure in the healthy range, you are
reducing the risk of your vascular walls becoming overstretched and injured, decreasing the risk of your heart having to pump harder to compensate for blockages and protecting the entire body so your tissue receives regular supplies of blood that is rich in the oxygen it needs.
There is a lot you can control, but you cannot control genetics or age. By focusing on modifiable risk factors, you can minimize the effects of genetics. “Because of various risk
factors, people start depositing cholesterol within the walls of the arteries, which is a defense mechanism,” says Arain, meaning that since
our risk factors damage the artery walls, the lining gets damaged. “The body is repairing the cholesterol’s damage to the blood vessel wall, but if you keep depositing cholesterol in the same