With a little effort, you can protect yourself from heart disease
By Joel M. Phares, M.D., FACC
Did you know that cardiovascular disease kills more people each year than all forms of cancer combined?
Probably the most alarming statistic about heart disease is that it is the number-one killer of Americans. But what’s even scarier is that its two biggest drivers of the disease are both preventable: smoking and obesity.
The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease is to stop smoking. If you currently smoke you need to stop. You get a huge mortality benefit when you stop smoking. Stopping smoking gives you a three-fold increase in life expectancy from any cause of death compared to continuing smoking. The benefits extend way beyond the health of your heart.
If you are diabetic, you have to get your diabetes under control. If you are overweight, you definitely need to lose weight and exercise more. It’s hard to do, but it can be done and really, your life depends on it.
I recommend everyone get a baseline cholesterol check, because these are important numbers to know and to keep your eye on. Some people have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, so even if you are relatively healthy, it’s important to know what your cholesterol is.
Aside from that, I recommend having your blood pressure and your glucose checked. All of these tests can be ordered by your primary care provider.
Knowing all your numbers is important. But regardless of any test, the most important thing you can do (after you quit smoking) is exercise. A lot of patients ask me what type of exercise they need to be doing and I say the most important is an exercise you enjoy. Start with 20 to 30 minutes a day for three days a week. My rule of thumb is that you need to break a sweat.
All in the family
I have patients ask me if heart conditions run in the family. The answer is yes and no. It’s a complex question because it depends on what kind of condition you are talking about. As far as blockages in the heart, there is a genetic component to that, but when you compare the genetic risk to the other risk factors, the genetic risk is relatively low.
New guidelines from the AHA
The American Heart Association recently issued some new guidelines that are fairly radical relating to how we lower cholesterol with medications. The information is fairly detailed and very important toward helping you live longer. These guidelines require a whole new thought process by cardiologists.
I will be speaking in detail about this subject at Williamson Medical Center on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP by calling 615.936.0322 or by visiting VanderbiltHealth.com/Events.
Joel Phares, M.D. FACC, is board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. He is a cardiologist with Vanderbilt Heart at Williamson Medical Center.
Posted on: 2/17/2014