How to Keep a Healthy Heart
By Jake Foster, PA
When I was in PA school, I had an instructor that was constantly running. He would run to and from work. He would run on his lunch break. He would in every season. Snow, rain, sunshine, sleet or hail, nothing would stop his running. I one day jokingly asked him what he was running from, and with a smile, he responded: “Cardiovascular disease!”
His half-serious answer wasn’t wrong. Cardiovascular disease, or disease affecting the heart and blood vessels, remains the #1 killer of Americans. It turns out the pump and the pipes are pretty darn important for keeping the lights on. Blood flow to all the tissues of our bodies is absolutely essential for us to keep functioning. And this is especially true for our hearts and brains. These tend to be the two places that we keep an eye on the closest when it comes to cardiovascular disease, as heart attack and stroke are common killers when a person has cardiovascular disease.
Each of us carry around a certain degree of risk for heart attack and stroke. These risks come in a couple of different categories, risks that are modifiable, and risks that are not modifiable. Our age, our sex and our genetics are risks that can’t really be modified. Other risks can be modified, and those are the ones I’d like to highlight today.
Tobacco use, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, having uncontrolled blood pressure and diabetes are all risks that can be modified. Tobacco use is an obvious one, and this is a tough one for a lot of folks. Tobacco use is one of the basic things a person can stop in order to greatly decrease cardiovascular disease risk.
I talk to a lot of people in the clinic who think they are a lot more active than they really are. A lot of folks are using pedometers to track their steps during the day, and can easily get five to ten thousand steps in a day. This is a great start, but not all steps are created equal. If you are getting ten thousand steps in a day, but never really breaking a sweat or increasing your respiratory rate, it probably isn’t adequate exercise.
It is also very easy to watch those scales slowly creep up over time as we age. Most commonly, our weight goes up because–let’s face it–we just eat too much. The only way to know exactly how much we are eating is to start keeping a food log and counting our calories. It is actually quite surprising how easy it is to over eat.
Checking blood pressure is a simple test that just about anyone can do. Having too much pressure in the system will undoubtedly lead to the pump and the pipes wearing out much sooner than they ought to.
Lastly, diabetes is a risk factor in and of itself, and it’s incidence among Americans is increasing year after year. If you are sedentary, and seeing more and more weight on your body year after year, then you are likely developing insulin resistance, and knocking on diabetes door.
Again, we all have some degree of risk for cardiovascular disease. Some risks are modifiable and some are not. I would recommend that you get established with a trained medical provider who can help to assess your risk and guide you in a safe and healthy way as you do all you can to keep ahead of cardiovascular disease.