By Ruby Bendersky, M.D.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of all Americans have at least one of three conditions that raise heart risks: diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Other major risks include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, family history of early cardiovascular events, and tobacco use. Moreover, more than 15 percent of the people the CDC studied did not even know they had one or more of these conditions. This study shows us two things: 1.) We need a greater understanding of our own health risks, and 2.) Odds are high that most of us will need to see a cardiologist at some point in our lives and make choices to protect our hearts.
One excellent place to start in our work to care for our hearts is to have an honest conversation with our doctors. Your doctor should check your cholesterol at least every five years and your blood pressure every two years, and test you for diabetes every three years after age 45. That schedule may need to change depending on your individual risk factors, including whether you have a personal or family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.
The good news is that there is so much we can do to prevent heart disease and reduce our risk. For example, keeping one’s weight within a healthy range makes a major difference. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 69 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Not only does obesity put you at greater risk for heart disease, added pounds weigh down your good cholesterol and boost the bad. If you're heavy, losing 7 to 10 percent of your body weight prevents complications from high blood pressure, and losing 5 to 7 percent reduces your risk for diabetes.
Another way to get heart healthy is to exercise. Your heart is a remarkable organ, and it needs to stay in great shape to keep working properly. We recommend trying to exercise for about 30 minutes per day, five times a week. Exercise keeps your heart healthy, and it also can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve bone health and reduce stress. Exercise in combination with a healthy diet – including eating foods low in sodium and trans fats – can make a significant difference in how well your heart works.
When we don’t take care of our hearts, we put our lives at risk. It is important to understand that heart disease isn’t specific to a particular gender, ethnicity or age group. Victims might even seem healthy, but they may have an underlying undiagnosed coronary artery disease (CAD) – the most common cause of the dangerous heart rhythm problems that can cause heart attacks.
Make 2013 the year you make a commitment to your heart. Talk to your doctor about your risk and ask about screenings. Choose a lifestyle that lets your heart do its job well, including exercise, diet and smoking cessation. This year, give your heart a chance.
Lovelace Women’s Hospital cardiologist Ruby Bendersky, M.D., FACC, has more than 25 years of cardiology experience. She offers a broad range of cardiology services for both men and women, and she is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular medicine. She is located at Lovelace Women’s Hospital, 4705 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Suite 101, in Albuquerque. For more information, please call 505.727.6971.