Keeping Yourself Heart Healthy

Even though heart disease and heart attacks are common, they are preventable. You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Here is some practical advice on how to protect yourself and the lives of those you love.
  •  Diabetes - Diabetes is a condition in which there is an excessive amount of blood glucose (sugar) in the body. People with diabetes have three to five times greater risk of developing heart disease, as uncontrolled blood sugars can damage blood vessel walls and create a build-up of plaque in the arteries. People with diabetes should follow the correct diet under a doctor’s supervision. Regular exercise can help control your blood sugar and weight. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan and follow the doctor’s instructions on when to check your blood sugar.
  •  Diet - "We are what we eat," concluded German philosopher Ludwig Feurbach in 1850 – and it's still true today. You don't have to be perfect, just do the best you can. And don't give up on good eating habits because it seems too hard. The most important thing to remember is to cut down on foods that contain a lot of saturated fat. In general, these are foods that are solid at room temperature or have fats that solidify at room temperature (like sausages, hamburgers, butter and cream). Saturated fats increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood – and increase your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Exercise - Everyone can benefit from exercise – whatever your age and no matter how unfit you feel at the moment. Regular exercise is essential for a healthy heart and a great way to keep in shape. Talk with your doctor about a fitness plan that's right for you. And if you're not keen on playing a sport or joining a gym, there are plenty of other ways to get fit. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial. Try taking a brisk walk, going for a bicycle ride, spinning your sweetie around the dance floor, or using the stairs instead of the elevator at work. The American Heart Association recommends accumulating up to 30 minutes of activity per day, most days of the week. It doesn't have to be 30 minutes of activity all at once. Try breaking it up into three, ten-minute periods. Check out EMMC's Move & Improve Program; it's a great way to make physical activity a part of your life.
  • Find a Physician You Like - As with any health concern, if you are worried about heart disease, talk with your family physician. See your doctor regularly so he or she can help you monitor your heart and your overall health. If you don’t already have one, find a doctor you like and develop a relationship with him or her. Your healthcare depends a lot on you, but it’s your family doctor’s job to offer you good, trusted advice and care. So pay attention to what your doctor says and remember to consult him or her whenever you have questions. If you need help finding a primary care doctor, please call Eastern Maine Healthcare’s physician referral service at 1-800-439-2111, or go to our online physician finder.
  • High Blood Pressure - People with high blood pressure (also called hypertension) are at increased risk for developing heart disease. High blood pressure increases the workload on the heart and heart valves, which may cause the heart to enlarge. Also, the stress on the artery walls may increase plaque build-up and create blockages in the arteries. If you have high blood pressure, be sure to take the medicines prescribed by your doctor, reduce the amount of salt in your diet, and reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption.
  • High Cholesterol - You can reduce cholesterol in your blood by eating healthy foods, losing weight if necessary, and exercising. Some people also need to take medicine because changing their diet isn't enough. Your health care provider, nurse, or a dietician can help you set up a plan for reducing your cholesterol - and keeping your heart healthy!
  • Medications - In addition to changing your risk factors, your doctor may ask you to take medication to control your risk for heart disease as a lifestyle change may not be enough.
  • Obesity - Obesity is another major risk factor for heart disease. If you are overweight, your bad cholesterol is likely to be too high, your good cholesterol is likely to be too low, and you are at risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. Finding your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good way to determine if you are at a healthy weight. A normal BMI is less than 25; an overweight BMI is between 25 and 29; and an obese BMI is 30 or more. Talk to your doctor about how to find out your BMI.

    Even moderate weight loss, especially permanent loss, can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and help control diabetes. It’s a good idea to eat a variety of healthy, low calorie foods and get regular exercise. Drinking plenty of water may help you feel full so you will be less likely to snack on high calorie food. Talk to your doctor or a dietician about strategies to help you with weight loss.
  • Smoking - There is no question that if you smoke, stopping will be the very best thing you will ever do for our heart. Even if you find it difficult to quit, keep on trying! Smoking is often one of the major causes of heart disease and the risk of a heart attack rises with each cigarette smoked. Chemicals in cigarettes cause damage to the linings of your arteries which can lead to heart disease. Carbon monoxide (a chemical in smoke) also reduces your blood's ability to carry oxygen to your heart.
  • Stress - The human stress response can raise levels of the adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline raises your heart rate and blood pressure and can cause your heart arteries to tighten and narrow; making heart disease even worse. You cannot get rid of stress completely, but you can learn ways to reduce the harmful effects of stress. Practice the four A's: Avoid, Accept, Alter, Adapt. To help prevent stress, set aside time each day to do activities you enjoy. Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Find a quiet place to sit or lie down. Close your eyes. Inhale as you count up to five. Then exhale as you count up to five. Consciously try to relax your muscles from your head to your toes. It may be helpful to think of a pleasant experience as you deep breathe. Doing this activity on a regular basis has been shown to lower the stress response and as you become comfortable deep breathing and relaxing in quiet settings, you can begin to use this method in a more stressful setting. For example, while standing in line at the grocery store. Although this activity works for many, some people need further help managing stress. Talk to your doctor about whether counseling or medication might be right for you and be sure to talk to your doctor about feelings of hopelessness or depression.