Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men and women, and prevention should be our number one priority. With just a few simple changes, we can lower our risk factors and achieve overall cardiovascular health.
Physical activity is at the cornerstone of being heart healthy. However, we tend to confuse the need for physical activity with vigorous exercise. Any sort of aerobic activity improves our health, whether it’s walking the dog 30 minutes a day or simply choosing to take the stairs. Finding an exercise that best fits your personality and lifestyle will help you breathe easier and feel better.
When we make big, hard-to-reach goals, we set ourselves up for failure. Instead, start small and work at it little by little. For example, begin the week by walking for 10 minutes and add five minutes each day after that. If you miss a day, don’t worry about it. Just make sure you pick right back up the next.
Russell Pate, PhD and professor in the Department of Exercise at the University of South Carolina, says, “Our bodies were designed to be physically active, and they don’t do well with long-term sedentary living. Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
When it comes to preventing heart disease, a primary care doctor can do most of the vascular screening and prevention. It’s important to monitor and control your cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. If there are risk factors for vascular disease such as diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, or an early family history of coronary artery disease; the physician may refer you to a cardiologist for a screening evaluation.
Cardiovascular disease is an increasing concern in children and adolescents due to higher rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Pediatricians can address this early by encouraging more physical activity and providing healthier eating tips. Weight loss at an an early age often cures diabetes, which is one of the most important ways to prevent vascular disease as an adult.
Except gender and family history, we control all other factors that affect our cardiovascular health. If you’re willing to do your part, there are phenomenal tools at hand to reduce your risk. With so much technology—the Fitbit, Apple Watch, and tons of free fitness apps— we have every opportunity to take responsibility for our physical activity and heart health.
We have one body and one life to live, so live it at your best. Why not eat better, exercise more, and quit smoking? By reducing your risk of having a heart attack, a stroke, kidney failure, and vascular disease in general, you’ll live a longer life with a healthier heart.
Dr. Stacy Smith is a cardiologist with Stern Cardiovascular Foundation. She specializes in consultative cardiology and cardiovascular disease. For more information call 901.271.1000 or visit sterncardio.com