5 Things to Know About Preventing Heart Disease

One in every four deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease, considered one the most preventable health ailments

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Cardiologist Anne Curtis, the Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chairwoman of the department of medicine at the University at Buffalo.
Cardiologist Anne Curtis, the Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chairwoman of the department of medicine at the University at Buffalo.

While it remains one of the most preventable health ailments, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death, disability and healthcare spending in the United States for men and women.

The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year — that’s one in every four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“One of the first steps is knowing your blood pressure because that could be a looming indicator on heart problems,” said physician Anne Curtis, the Charles and Mary Bauer professor and chairwoman of the department of medicine at the University at Buffalo. “Too often people ignore symptoms because they think it will pass.”

Curtis talks about five steps to having a healthy heart.

1. Stop smoking

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about one in five deaths, according to the CDC. For years, smoking figures declined. However with the advent of e-cigarettes, smoking has stormed its way to the forefront.

“We have made smoking more difficult because you can’t smoke indoors in restaurants, bars, airplanes and the days where you used to be able to smoke at your desk are gone,” said Curtis. “Making it inconvenient will not only limit second hand smoking issues but we hope discourage people from smoking. I tell my patients smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart and lungs and this will always be the case.”

2. Exercise

One of the very best gifts you can give your heart is physical activity. Even something as small as parking your car at the far end of a parking lot or choosing the stairs rather than the elevator can make a world of difference. Exercising lowers your blood pressure and works to slow your heart rate. High pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Being physical also is a necessary step to losing weight and keeping the weight off, which also puts less pressure on your heart.

“It makes an incredible difference those who are physically fit and those who are not when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart.” said Curtis. “As you get older, it is especially important to keep moving for your heart and joints. We recommend 150 minutes a week of exercise and it doesn’t have to be high intensity. Light or moderate exercise can make a world of difference.”

3. Diet

Being overweight continues to be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your heart healthy by making healthier food choices isn’t as hard as it sounds. Some of the standard tips Curtis suggests includes 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.

“When people are obese, it worsens a lot of other health problems, especially related to your heart,” added Curtis. “Overweight people tend to have higher cholesterol and diabetes. We tell people to take in more proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables because a healthy diet will help you live longer.”

4. Know your cholesterol

Cholesterol is both good and bad. At normal levels, it is an essential substance for the body. However, if concentrations in the blood get too high, it becomes a silent danger that puts people at risk of heart attack. Total cholesterol is measured as both low-density lipoprotein, which is the bad cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein, which is considered good cholesterol. Typically cholesterol over 200 is a problem.

“This is something that you can check with a single blood test,” said Curtis. “You want your overall cholesterol to be as low as possible. If you combine a healthy diet and exercising then cholesterol shouldn’t be an issue. That is the reason you should get it checked regularly as you get older so the issue doesn’t surprise you. Some people can get it checked every five years while others should get it checked yearly.”

5. Be careful with stress

Stress can be a symptom and consequence of many health ailments, especially with any change of life situation.

“When someone is dealing with the death of a spouse or child or any life-altering event, we see cases of that affecting their heart,” added Curtis. “Stress can also lead to depression and affect your arteries from functioning normally. It can lead to clogged blockage which can lead to a heart attack.”

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