It's not quite as simple as an "apple a day." But if you're relatively healthy, it's not much harder to keep the cardiologist away. Just add some daily physical activity to good foods like apples and other fresh fruits and vegetables, and you're well on your way to lessening your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease prevention begins with you and your doctor. "It starts with a team approach where the health care worker is as motivated as the patient," according to Philip R. Liebson, MD, a preventive cardiologist and professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Rush University Medical Center. "The next step is to find out what the patient's current health habits are and see if there are any roadblocks, like concerns or fears related to changing these habits. Next, you'll want to work together to prioritize the changes that you want to accomplish," he says.
The cornerstones of heart disease prevention for the average person are:
- Daily physical activity
- Healthful dietary choices
- Increase your daily servings of fruits and vegetables, decrease saturated fats (from meat, eggs and dairy products) and reduce salt and other types of sodium
- Lowering stress and maintaining weight that's in healthy proportion to your height (the body mass index, or BMI, is a good measure of this).
"When you've determined what the first and most important lifestyle change is that needs to be made to lower your risk, you then create a contract with your doctor," says Liebson. "For example, the patient might say, The next time we see each other I'll be ready to set a quit date for when I'll stop smoking. Or they might share, I will have signed up for a weight-loss program by our next meeting. You can't imagine how helpful it is to set these goals."
First Step in Prevention: Know Your Numbers
The following screening guidelines are for the average healthy adult:
- Get blood pressure checked once a year or once every two years
- Consult with your doctor if the top reading is consistently above 120 or the bottom is consistently higher than 80 (normal blood pressure is around 120/80 mm Hg)
- If your blood pressure is consistently 140/90 mm Hg or higher, you should already be partnering with your doctor to lower it, so make sure you make an appointment as soon as possible.
- Check glucose (blood sugar levels) every two to three years, depending on any changes in weight or lifestyle
- If fasting blood sugar is in the range of 100 to 125, you're already considered pre-diabetic; talk to your doctor about making lifestyle changes
- If your fasting blood sugar levels is greater than 125, it is in the range of diabetes and you'll need to visit your doctor and see what treatment and recommendations there are for controlling your blood sugar
- Get cholesterol checked at least once every five years, if levels have been normal in the past (below 200 mg dL) and you haven't had any significant weight gain
- It's not just your overall cholesterol numbers that matter; you need to also look at your HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels.
- For example, if you have good overall cholesterol, but low HDL levels (the so-called good cholesterol), you may still be at risk and need to make changes or seek treatment.
- If HDL is less than 30, you need to add more physical activity and exercise to your daily routine.
See your doctor more frequently if you:
- Already have been diagnosed with heart disease
- Have experienced a stroke
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Smoked or continue to smoke or use other tobacco products regularly
- Have been diagnosed with diabetes
- Are obese (a BMI over 30)
- Have kidney disease
- Have trouble with arteries in the legs
- Are significantly overweight (a BMI over 28)
- Recently gained a significant amount of weight
Keep track of your goals and progress by writing them down. You can have your accomplished goals alongside your test results to see the impact that they've had on your health. This will also allow you to share the good news with your partner in prevention, your doctor.
A Team Approach
Liebson stresses the importance of a team approach to support the disease prevention goals. "In heart disease prevention, a nurse, nutritionist and behaviorist are key for supporting patients and helping them reach their goals," he says.
"One thing I'm concerned about is the epidemic of obesity, and the increase in diabetes that comes along with that epidemic," says Liebson. "Obesity itself can increase blood pressure and raise cholesterol levels, but when we include type 2 diabetes, the heart and blood vessels are at increased risk of disease and damage."
The early you decide to lower your risk the better. "And having the support of your doctor and the other health care professionals on the team can be key to being successful," says Liebson.
More Information at Your Fingertips:
- For more information about preventive care for heart disease at Rush visit our Preventive Cardiology Center home page.
- For more information about other heart and cardiovascular services at Rush visit our Heart and Vascular Programs home page.
- For more information about heart disease and its treatment, visit our health library:
- Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352- RUSH (888 352-7874)
Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
If you enjoyed this article and are not already a subscriber, subscribe today to Discover Rush Online. You'll receive health information, breaking medical news and helpful tips for maintaining your health each month via e-mail.