Although many heart problems cannot be prevented, there are a few principles that will at least lower your risk of getting heart disease or suffering from complications of existing heart disease. While you should always consult your personal health care provider first, my patients have found that this simple ABC plan helps them focus on what is important.
A- stay ACTIVE. This is perhaps the most important principle of good health. Science has consistently shown that regular exercise not only helps you stay healthy, it also helps prevent the development of many heart diseases. Regular exercise can lower the risk of heart disease and evens some forms of cancer. In addition, it seems to be helpful in lowering the risk of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure which all can contribute to heart disease.
B- regularly check your BLOOD PRESSURE. In most cases, high blood pressure occurs slowly, and does not cause any symptoms. You could easily have high blood pressure, but not even know it! Be sure to get your blood pressure checked using a machine that is regularly calibrated so that the results are accurate. Good blood pressure control helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
C- control your CHOLESTEROL levels. High cholesterol levels, over time, can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke. High cholesterol levels are almost always entirely asymptomatic, meaning that you need to get a blood test in order to know if your levels are increased. Although cholesterol levels typically go up with increasing weight, in some people there is a genetic predisposition, and their cholesterol levels may be increased even though they have a normal body weight. If your cholesterol levels are high, there are several different options of getting it back into the healthy range, so feel comfortable getting medical treatment for this. High cholesterol levels do not necessarily mean a lifetime of taking a prescription medication.
D- consume a healthy DIET. Perhaps the most important component of a healthy diet is to maintain a healthy weight. So eat a wide variety of foods, but be particularly careful about controlling your calories so your weight is in a desirable range. Most people could benefit from eating more green vegetables and less sugar. It sometimes seems like there are millions of different diet programs available, but the major objective is to control your calories with a healthy diet that you enjoy and can follow for a long period of time. A good start is the MegaSimple Diet which emphasizes more fiber and less sugar. Of course, a healthy diet means that you DON'T SMOKE and don't abuse alcohol or other drugs.
E- make sure you ENJOY LIFE. A happy and positive outlook seems to help the heart stay healthy and strong. Although there are many things you cannot control, having an optimistic view of your life can improve your situation. We cannot prevent all heart disease, and cannot control our genetics. Accidents and sporadic illnesses occur, and even if we live a perfect life we are still vulnerable to random diseases and accidents. So enjoy the present moment, today.
That's it ! Stay ACTIVE, control your BLOOD PRESSURE, control your CHOLESTEROL, eat a healthy DIET and DON'T SMOKE, and finally ENJOY LIFE. By focusing on these simple, fundamental principles you can help lower your risk of heart disease, help prevent complications of existing disease, and stay healthy.
Tom Heston MD is a Johns Hopkins trained physician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Practice and a Fellow of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology. He practices medicine in the Pacific Northwest.