Take It To Heart

By Cheryl Clark

December 7, 2007 4 min read


Your checklist for cardiovascular health

By Cheryl Clark

Copley News Service

You know it's out there. Heart disease. It's the biggest killer in the U.S. with nearly 1 million victims a year, 147,000 of them under age 65.

The American Heart Association estimates that nearly 80 million Americans have some form of it.

So how do you keep it from sending you to an early grave?

It's actually pretty simple, says Dr. Paul Teirstein, chief of cardiology at Scripps Clinic in San Diego. "Eat a good diet. Don't smoke. And get regular exercise about three days a week."

Here are 10 tips to help your heart stay healthy as you age:

1. Learn your family history. You should be concerned if your parents or relatives had heart disease at an early age, such as their 50s. If so, you may be at a higher risk for problems.

2. Don't smoke.

3. Avoid diets high in fat and salt. "The eggs Benedict and french fries that you become addicted to early in life only increase your bad cholesterol sooner and you'll end up being on (cholesterol-lowering drugs) earlier," Teirstein says. "And, you'll have more trouble discontinuing those evil eating habits later on."

4. Know your bad and good cholesterol counts, even if you're in your 30s. LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, should not be above 100, and it should be lower if you have existing heart disease or risky family history. HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, should be higher than 50 in a woman and at least 40 in a man.

"Twenty percent of the patients whose arteries I insert stents in are in their 40s," Teirstein said. "It's not uncommon, given today's dietary practices, to have severe coronary blockages by then."

If diet and exercise aren't enough, a class of drugs called statins might help.

5. Get regular exercise. Thirty minutes of brisk walking at least three days a week have been shown to improve heart health.

6. Maintain a healthful weight.

7. Check your blood pressure. Get regular checkups that include blood pressure, especially if you're over age 50. High blood pressure can hasten heart disease or make existing heart problems worse.

8. Get a treadmill test. If you have a family history, high-stress job, sedentary lifestyle or perhaps occasional cramping or pain in the chest, a common treadmill test is recommended as frequently as once a year, Teirstein said.

9. Get an image of the heart. If the treadmill test shows abnormality, Teirstein recommends a more detailed scan of the heart, such as a CT or perhaps an invasive angiogram, in which a tiny wire is threaded through arteries to detect blockages.

10. Consume alcohol. Teirstein's last advice is a bonus. "I'd say drink one or two glasses of an alcoholic beverage a day, because it's been shown to be actually protective for the heart," he said. "Wine is best, although any alcohol is good. In moderation."

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