Know the basics to prevent heart disease

Date Published: 
March 3, 2017

Heart disease remains one of the top killers of Americans. Diets high in fat and salt contribute greatly to heart disease, as does a lack of exercise and smoking.

Take the necessary steps today to prevent or improve your heart health.

Get back to basics

Step 1: Overhaul your eating habits. The easiest step you can take to improve your heart health is to closely examine what you eat.

The old saying, “You are what you eat,” is actually remarkably on point. The food we put into our body can either improve our health or degrade it. Choose fresh, whole foods over packaged products. Packaged products often have a longer shelf life because they are full of preservatives, including salt. As we know, salt contributes to high blood pressure and can increase your risk of heart disease.

Know your BMI (Body mass index). Discuss weight loss with your physician, especially if your BMI is above 30.

Step 2: Get those steps in. Perhaps you received a wearable health tracker over the holidays; now is the time to put it to good use. Start tracking your steps and challenge yourself to increase them each week. Your goal could be anywhere from 6, 000 to 10,000; just be sure to get up and move regularly.

Becoming a marathon runner is not necessary — studies have shown how walking alone can drastically improve health.

Step 3: See a physician. All adults should have at the minimum a yearly check-up with a primary-care physician. During these visits, you will gain insight into your overall health. Ask about your numbers and put them on paper — either by asking for a print-out or writing them down yourself. Numbers to discuss include blood pressure, blood glucose (sugar), and cholesterol, among others.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease and make a plan to improve your numbers. If you don’t have a primary care physician in this area, call the Physician Referral Line at (302) 645-3332 or go online to https://www.beebehealthcare.org/find-a-doc.

Step 4: Dial down the sugar. During the holidays, many of us may have had more sugar than we usually do. However, for those on the border of diabetes, that excess sugar could spell trouble in 2017. Make sure to control the amount of sugar you are eating.

Diabetes is a big risk factor for heart disease. Read your food labels and try to limit sugar per serving to 10 grams or less. If you are already diabetic, you may want to limit it even further.

Step 5: Put down that cigarette. We all know how bad smoking is for our lungs; however, it is just as bad for our heart! Smoking singlehandedly leads to a wide variety of illnesses, from cancer to heart disease. The best step you can take to improve your health this year is to quit.

There are many support services out there to help you. Start with the Delaware Quitline: http://dhss.delaware.gov/dph/dpc/quitline.html.

Step 6: Do not ignore heart disease warning signs and symptoms. Report to your doctor symptoms of chest discomfort, shortness of breath with minimal exertion or at rest, or unexplained recent excessive fatigue and decline in your stamina. Seek medical attention. Early discovery will have a favorable impact on your health and treatment.

To better understand your heart disease risk, take a free, 5-minute survey — the Heart Health Profiler — on Beebe’s website, at https://www.beebehealthcare.org/hearthealthprofiler.

If you are at risk for heart disease and want to create a personalized plan to improve your health, try My Life Check via the American Heart Association, at http://tools.bigbeelabs.com/aha/tools/mlc/.

Dr. Georges Dahr, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiology. He is fellowship-trained in cardiology. He is a member of the Beebe Medical Staff and serves as the medical director for Cardiac Echo. He sees patients at Clinic by the Sea, with offices in Lewes and Millsboro. For more information about Cardiac & Vascular Services at Beebe Healthcare, go to https://www.beebehealthcare.org/cardiac-vascular-services.