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Sustaining and Maintaining Heart Health

Sustaining and Maintaining Heart Health
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Anyone diagnosed with heart disease has received a big wake-up call. Here’s how to manage the facts and the future.

At some point many of us will be confronted by a doctor who says they have a serious concern about a heart condition affecting us. Our first question will probably be, “What?” But we should be asking, “Why?”

“Why” gets to how our behaviors, family history and other conditions have added up to heart disease. The more we understand about those factors, the more we can take control of them, and this could include lifestyle changes that forestall medications and surgery.

One of the primary factors affecting heart health is smoking. If you smoke you would be well advised to quit. Any cigarette smoker will tell you that’s easier said than done, but there are pharmaceutical solutions, counseling, and other techniques that can get you to stop smoking. This isn’t about cutting down.  There’s no such thing. It’s about getting the dangerous chemicals out of  your bloodstream caused by smoking once and for all. Your doctor is a good place to start, but too often they simply say you should quit with marginal support. Quitting smoking is mostly up to you and it’s the first step towards heart health. Then again, maybe you never smoked. That’s a good thing.  But there are other factors and one of the other major causes of heart disease is obesity. Many people assume obesity is about someone who is enormously large. The fact of the matter is that obesity is defined as something called body-mass-index or BMI. This is the proportion of weight you have to your height, but there are other factors related to abdominal fat and waist circumference.

Regardless of where you have the weight, finding a diet and exercise program to manage and maintain your ideal weight is one of the primary goals of heart health. This gets to the apparent redundancy of sustaining and maintaining. Sustaining is about sustenance. How do you eat and fundamentally sustain yourself? This is why diet is so important to effectively managing heart disease.

Maintaining is about discipline of diet combined with exercise. Those two factors have the greatest affect on overall cardiovascular health.

What’s on your plate?

The standard mantra for a heart healthy diet is low fat, low carb, low sodium.  But what does that mean and how do we measure? One way is to follow some diet plans that have been identified as inherently heart healthy. They include:

·         The Mediterranean Diet

·         The DASH Diet

·         A general low-fat diet

These diets are generally recommended by doctors and cardiologists to sustain and maintain heart health. The telegram is low-fat and low-carb. Specifically trans-fats and saturated fats, and simple carbohydrates like refined sugar and flour. Some people blame it all on high-fructose corn syrup. There is no chemical or biological difference between refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. They’re both bad for anyone managing their heart health.

The same goes for sodium. Many heart patients proudly remove the salt shaker from their tables. Guess what? Only 10% of your daily salt intake comes from that salt shaker. Most comes from the processed foods we buy in bottles, cans and boxes. If you want to eat a heart healthy diet, eat fresh foods and keep the salt shaker on the table. Besides, it’s probably iodized salt and you need the iodine in addition to at least 1500 mg of sodium a day to basically function.


And no, it doesn’t have to be painful. Most heart patients follow a pattern of cardiac rehab and actually pursue exercise with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm afterwards. The same monitors that were used in cardiac rehab are now portable and you can get an instant readout on your heart rate and body temperature while you run, bicycle or walk on your own.

A health club is worth considering, but you have to make a commitment to visit on a regular basis. Too many of us join the health club, pay the monthly dues and never get around to actually exercising at the club. If you’re like me, long walks in the neighborhood, a new trail bike with regular cycling, and some long walks with the kids at a forest preserve surpass any health club.


Doctors are good people. Go see them as much as your insurance allows or based on how you feel. They’ll recommend routine tests to assess how you’re really doing and alert you if something is wrong. For a lot of us, our mindset is that once we’ve endured open-heart surgery or managed some heart condition that we don’t need the opinions of more doctors. That’s a bad assumption. Go see your doctor.

Some last words for now…

If you or someone you know has a cardiovascular condition, see your doctor and do your research. The fortunate fact is that most of these conditions are treatable allowing a person to return to a normal life and lifestyle. That’s what it’s all about and we wish that for all of you, everyday.


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