By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart, which includes blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems and congenital heart defects. However, it is the variety of unhealthy behaviors we exhibit that can increase the probability of these symptoms.
“While your heart is one of the most essential organs in your body, it is important to follow many steps to keeping your heart healthy,” said physician Vijay Iyer, chief of the division of cardiology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo. “Doing only one of these recommendations may still lead to heart issues and we want to make sure to keep the arteries strong and prevent clots.”
Iyer, who practices at Buffalo General Medical Center and Gates Vascular Institute, offers five tips to better heart health.
1. Family History
Iyer believes that fully understanding your family history is one of the key steps needed to stay ahead of your heart health. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a few steps when it comes to finding out more information about your family history. Write down the names of your close relatives from both sides of the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Talk to these family members about what conditions they have or had, and at what age the conditions were first diagnosed. You might think you know about all of the conditions in your parents or siblings, but you might find out more information if you ask.
“As physicians we can better help you when we know all the information,” said Iyer. “When we know your full family history it creates a road map to provide the best care for you. You can never know too much about your family history.”
Keeping your heart healthy by making healthier food choices isn’t as hard as it sounds. Some of the standard tips health professionals suggest include choosing healthy fats such as avocados as well as omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, tuna and salmon. In addition, whole-grain breads or pastas are higher in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Choose them instead of white breads or regular pastas for sandwiches and meals. Doctors recommend a more plant-based diet while reducing the amount of red meats such as pork and beef. Medical experts believe in good fats such as avocados and low fat yogurt. A poor diet leads to an increase of diabetes along with arthritis and musculoskeletal risk.
“Staying away from food that have high excess of fat as well as staying away from a steady diet of red meat can improve your health,” said Iyer. “You should also be aware of moderation in any food you eat.”
Being overweight continues to be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Many vascular issues where there are blockages leads to heart diseases. While not all of them are preventable, medical experts say lack of a good diet mixed with little exercises lead to a mixture of problems. Something as simple as walking regularly let alone going to the gym can make a world of difference.
“Something as simple as 30 minutes of walking four times a week will help your heart and your overall health,” said Iyer.
4. Know your numbers
Iyer said it’s essential to understand your health numbers from blood pressure to cholesterol. To understand high blood cholesterol, it helps to learn about cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that help you digest foods. However, we also put food in our bodies that elevate our cholesterol.
In addition, LDL cholesterol — which stands for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol— is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Lipoproteins, which are combinations of fats and proteins, are the form in which lipids are transported in the blood.
Iyer recommends that your blood pressure be below 130/80.
“High cholesterol and high blood pressure remain an incredible combination for many health ailments including heart issues,” said Iyer.
5. BMI and Hypertension
Iyer also suggested that people also know their overall body mass index — or BMI. To calculate that, people should get their weight in kilograms and divide it by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems but it is not diagnostic of the body fatness or health of an individual. A BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Also called high blood pressure, it is a condition where blood flows through the blood vessels with a force greater than normal. Hypertension can strain the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems, and death.