Asif Zia, MD, MPH, FACP; internal medicine, Lillington Medical Services
Many of my patients ask me about heart disease, and they are right to be concerned. It is the leading cause of adult deaths in the United States, killing nearly 700,000 people each year. What you may not know is that 51 percent of those people are women. In fact, one in every eight women ages 45 to 64 has coronary heart disease, and more than 88,000 women in that age bracket will have a heart attack this year.
There are many things you can do to take control of your heart health, but your first priority should be to evaluate your risk for heart disease. When you recognize your risk factors, you can take steps to manage them. Some risk factors, such as age and family history, are out of your control. However, when it comes to your lifestyle choices, you have the ability to improve your heart health and reduce your likelihood of getting heart disease.
When evaluating a patient and his/her risk for heart disease, I consider the following factors: Does the patient smoke? Does the person have high cholesterol and/or diabetes? Is the patient physically inactive, and is he or she over the age of 45? Does the patient have high blood pressure, and is he or she more than 20 pounds overweight? If the patient is female, is she postmenopausal? And finally, does the patient have a family history of heart disease? As the number of “yes” answers increases, so does a patient’s risk for heart disease.
When it comes to good heart health, I can’t stress enough the importance of eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet. By lowering your fat and salt intake and increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can significantly lower your blood pressure. And by adding more fiber to your diet, which is found in barley, oatmeal, legumes such as cooked beans, and produce such as carrots and apples, you can help reduce your blood cholesterol levels.
Finally, you need to move more! You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity – like walking – five or more days each week. Regular physical activity strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, and improves the delivery of oxygen throughout your body.
Take control of your heart health and discuss your risk factors with your physician. It’s the first step on the road to a long, healthy life.