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7 ways to keep your heart going strong


Roughly 2.5 billion times. That’s how often your heart will beat by the time you reach age 70. It’s  amazing, really. Nonstop, 24/7, the beat goes on and on and on.

Doctors have learned a lot about how the heart functions—and what we need to do to keep it healthy and going strong. Four cardiology experts who practice with St. Rose Dominican offer seven ways to help keep your ticker in tip-top shape.

  • Put it to the test – Your “heart numbers” can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your heart and if you have risk factors that may affect its health. Moniz Dawood, MD, board-certified in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology, shares some key information:

High blood pressure and excess cholesterol can cause plaque to build up inside arteries in the heart. Lifestyle changes can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Medication may also be needed in some cases.

Body mass index (BMI)—a measurement of your weight in relation to your height—is a good indicator of body fat. Excess weight forces your heart to work harder. It may also raise your blood pressure and have negative effects on your cholesterol levels. To find out your BMI, look for “BMI Calculator” under “Health Tools” at StRoseReach.org.

  • Pump it up – Like any muscle, your heart gets stronger with exercise. That helps it pump blood more efficiently. But David Navratil, MD, FACC, a physician board-certified in cardiovascular diseases and cardiac electrophysiology, indicates that the benefits don’t stop there. Regular exercise can help you manage your weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your cholesterol.

Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly. That’s any activity that causes a slight increase in breathing and heart rate, like brisk walking. Choose activities you enjoy so you’ll be more apt to stick with them. And start slowly, especially if it’s been a while since you were active.

  • Eat heart-smart – Your entire body, including your heart, is fueled by food. So quality matters. A heart-healthy diet contains lots of delicious options, such as:
    • Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
    • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
    • Skinless poultry, lean meat, and fish—especially those containing omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and trout.
    • Nuts and legumes.

Also aim to eat fewer foods with sodium, added sugar, and refined grains. It’s best to limit saturated fat and trans fat, too.

  • Clear the air – Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. And simply being around others’ smoke puts your heart at risk. Fareed Sheikh, DO, a cardiologist board-certified in cardiovascular disease, says, “Smoking is also the biggest risk factor for peripheral arterial and cerebral vascular diseases, which can lead to amputations and strokes.” Primary care doctors and specialists can help you quit.

Keep this in mind: Just a year after quitting, your excess risk of future heart disease is cut in half. Fifteen years after your last cigarette, it’s as if you never smoked at all.

  • Seek sound sleep – Too little sleep has been linked to heart failure and heart attack in adults. Maintaining consistent sleep schedules, keeping your bedroom dark and quiet, and avoiding large meals and caffeine near bedtime may help you sleep better. If you have ongoing sleep problems, speak with your doctor.
  • Ease stress – When you’re tense or anxious, your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increase. If stress   becomes chronic, it can take a toll on your heart. Find healthy ways to manage stress. Even taking a few minutes to sit quietly and breathe deeply may help you feel calmer.
  • Know the danger signs – If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911. Quick treatment may save your life. According to Sanjay Malhotra, MD, FACC, board-certified in cardiology and interventional cardiology, signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
    • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort.
    • Pain, tingling, or discomfort in the arms, shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
    • Shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, or cold and clammy skin.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.

Other possible signs and symptoms of heart problems you shouldn’t ignore are chest pain that worsens with physical activity and goes away with rest, swelling in your feet, legs, stomach, and veins in your neck, or a heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, or irregular.

If your primary care physician feels you should see a cardiologist, the St. Rose Dominican physician referral service can help. Call 702.616.4900.

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