Combating heart disease

Small lifestyle changes make big differences

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Nobody wants to have a heart attack or stroke. But one in four people in the United States are going to die from heart disease this year.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing approximately 610,000 people annually. As sobering as those statistics are, there is hope because the majority of heart disease-related deaths can prevented, said Dr. Gayle Smith, a family medicine physician with Heritage Health.

“People can do something about this disease,” said Dr. Smith. “Making small changes now will have a big impact later in life.”

Going to the doctor for a physical is a good starting point toward having a healthy heart, said Erika Mikles, a physician's assistant with Heritage Health.

“We'll check your blood pressure and cholesterol,” said Mikles. “If you don't know what the results mean ask your provider... Your ratio of good to bad cholesterol is important. LDL cholesterol is 'bad' since it can block the arteries. HDL cholesterol is 'good' and helps carry excess cholesterol away from the bloodstream.”

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure can be controlled with medicine, diet and exercise.

“When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys, which keeps you healthier longer,” Mikles said. “Ideally your systolic BP should be 120 or less and your diastolic BP should be 80 or less.”

Reversing heart disease is possible by focusing on cardiovascular health through improved diet and exercise.  

“Often my patients have a general idea of how they should change their lifestyle to improve their cardiovascular health, but the toughest part is getting started,” said Mikles.

“My advice to patients is start with small achievable goals such as adding more cardiovascular activity to each day. This could be parking farther away at the grocery store, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking a few laps around the office every hour. As these small changes start, I see these evolve into even bigger positive steps.”

Changing individual eating habits also makes a huge difference, said Heritage Health Dietitian Sarah Nave.

“If you adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle eating plan, you can lower your risks of getting heart disease,” said Nave. “Eating more vegetables than refined grains is a big part of it. Replacing red meat with seafood is another component.”

Changing what you eat after decades of making poor choices isn't easy, but it is possible.

“Make small sustainable changes,” she said. “For example, use olive oil instead of butter in your cooking. Small changes eventually become huge lifestyle changes.”

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--Written by Marc Stewart, Director of Sponsored Content 

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