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What Will It Take to Make You Heart Healthy?

By Kathy Hubbard

There was a cooking program some years ago where the chef was about to portion out a chicken and he took a big cleaver and hacked through the breast bone. He then said, “That’s what they just did to me when I had open-heart surgery.” Ewwww.

I was thinking about that episode recently when two of my really good friends underwent surgery. One had several arteries bypassed as did the other with the added procedure of having a leaky valve replaced. Both are recuperating well, but are faced with making radical changes to their lifestyle.

My late husband smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, was borderline diabetic, and led a pretty sedentary life due to having had polio as a child. He was 50 when he had his first heart attack and, believe me; we made some serious changes to our heart health.

We quit smoking. We started walking more. And we totally changed our diet. We always ate a lot of fish, fishing was our hobby, but I stopped putting it in butter and cream sauce. We ate a lot less red meat – in general, we ate a lot less of everything – and cut out high-fat, high sugar desserts.

We were scared. So, my question to you today is what will scare you into leading a more heart-healthy lifestyle? Will you wait until your healthcare provider tells you that you need heart surgery? Or do you have to have a heart attack first?

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States,” Medline Plus says. “It is also a major cause of disability.” Although they admit that there are some risk factors you have no control over, there are many you do.

What can’t you change? Your age, your gender, your race or ethnicity, and your family history. “Your risk of heart disease increases as you get older. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older have a greater risk. Estrogen provides women some protection against heart disease, but diabetes raises the risk of heart disease more in women than in men,” Healthline says.

What can you do? I bet you know some of these answers, but I’ll tell you anyway. Number one: Control your blood pressure.

“High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly, at least once a year for most adults, and more often if you have high blood pressure,” Healthline says.

Number two: Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control. “High levels of cholesterol can clog your arteries and raise your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medicines (if needed) can lower your cholesterol. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides may also raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially in women.” And, now don’t you want to pick up the phone to call your primary care provider for a screening appointment?

You know the next four, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, limit alcohol, and please, please don’t smoke or use e-cigarettes. Your PCP can give you great advice on how to quit your addiction to tobacco and nicotine.

Learn to manage stress because it can be a trigger for a heart attack. And, if you eat or drink excessively to try to cope, you aren’t doing your heart any good at all. Focus on something more calm and peaceful, like listening to music or going for a long walk. Just taking a few deep breaths can sometimes do wonders to reduce stress.

“Having diabetes doubles your risk of diabetic heart disease,” Healthline also tells us. “That is because, over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels.”

And, finally, get enough sleep. Not enough sleep raises your risk for high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your PCP about having a sleep study, you might have sleep apnea which is a subject for another day.


Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

Bonner General Health’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program helps cardiac patients recover from bypass surgery, stents, heart valve surgery, stable angina, heart attack, and congestive heart failure, through physical conditioning, education, and counseling. Click HERE for more information.

Bonner General Health’s Mended Hearts support group offers education and support to cardiac patients, their families, and caregivers. Click HERE for more information.

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