Take Control of Your Heart Health Through Two Simple Actions

Take Control of Your Heart Health Through Two Simple Actions

You should begin learning now what you can do to live a long and fruitful life. Starting to think about heart health shouldn’t wait until you’re age 65, the average age in the U.S. for a male’s first heart attack; indeed, as many as 10% of all heart attacks occur before age 45.

Palomar Health Cardiologist Dr. Navinder Sawhney says healthy heart habits should start in your youth as good habits get harder to develop as you age, and irreparable heart damage may develop through poor lifestyle choices.

Dr. Sawhney says maintaining a healthy heart is as simple as:
  • Exercising regularly
  • Making the right food choices

That’s it; pretty simple, right? Those two habits should lead to maintaining a lean body mass that will guard against the number one problem leading to long-term heart issues: obesity. Obesity makes the heart work harder to pump blood through your body, which leads to hypertension, sleep apnea and diabetes. These disorders can cause heart rhythm disorders (a.k.a., irregular heartbeats).

Lack of exercise and improper eating can also lead to high blood pressure, which can cause irreparable heart damage. High blood pressure causes your heart to thicken and the pressure in your heart to increase. The heart muscle itself starts to stretch out, developing abnormal electrical pathways and heart rhythm disorders.

High cholesterol is another side effect of poor health habits. High cholesterol causes fatty deposits in your blood vessels, decreasing blood flow through your arteries and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test.

Now the questions are, how do you eat right? And what is the proper level of exercise? The library is stuffed full of books on these topics but Palomar Health Registered Dietician Janice Baker and Cardiac Rehabilitation Supervisor Wendy Atchley simplified the answers.

Atchley says you need to do a moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes per day, five days per week or vigorous intensity 25 minutes per day, three days per week. Exercises typically consist of walking, swimming, jogging, biking and stair climbing. What’s the difference between moderate and vigorous intensity? It’s defined by your heart rate and age (visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website for a calculation).

Food choices
Baker emphasizes eating what you love as long as it’s in moderation. You shouldn’t classify foods as good or bad. Baker advises you to:  
  • Eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
  • Include sources of soluble fibers such as oatmeal, oat bran and beans on a regular basis. 
  • Minimize sources of saturated/trans fats and high sodium foods such as sausage meats and store-bought pastries.
  • Keep hydrated with plenty of water.
  • Minimize highly processed foods with high sodium content. 
Pursuing its mission to promote health in the North County, Palomar Health regularly hosts free health education classes throughout the year. The month of February is Heart Health Month so all classes follow that theme. To learn more, visit www.palomarhealth.org/classes.

Photo caption: Exercise and a healthy diet are critical to never meeting your cardiologist.