The Stitch

Six ways to maintain a healthy heart

Throughout the month of June, Men’s Health Month campaigns are encouraging healthy habits to improve overall wellbeing. One major focus is preventing heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States — more than cancer and diabetes combined.

However, steps can be taken to lower your risk. Dr. Joseph S. Coselli, professor and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, shares risk factors for coronary heart disease, advice for maintaining heart health and why lifestyle changes are key.

Sculpture at the Wallace D. Wilson Museum at Texas Heart Institute.

Q: What are the primary risk factors for heart disease?
A: The most important factor is genetics. The second factor is tobacco use – and the combination of genetics and smoking is an accelerant in coronary heart disease. A third is high cholesterol, which has a lot to do with diet. And another one is high blood pressure. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are also conditions that can impact heart health. Finally, there’s inactivity. Activity and exercise keep your weight down, reduce the likelihood of diabetes, and help your cholesterol levels.

Men can be stubborn about taking prescribed medications, so conditions such as high blood pressure can worsen over time. Also, men sometimes prioritize medications for other conditions, such as erectile dysfunction, even though some of these remedies are often not good for the heart.

Q: What are some preventative steps to help maintain a healthy heart?
A: Persistent stress and a lack of sleep are lifestyle challenges that a doctor can’t fix. You must address those directly. It’s also important to limit alcohol, as it contains a lot of calories. If you’re trying to keep your blood pressure down, alcohol isn’t working in your favor. Heavy drinking also weakens the muscles of the heart, which can lead to heart failure. Some studies maintain that one glass of red wine a day is fine, but in my opinion, alcohol should be avoided. The beneficial antioxidants and flavonoids in wine can be found in grapes and juice, and don’t come with the same problems.

Q: For patients who require surgical care, what medical innovations are promoting faster recovery?
A: Coronary artery bypass operations have become safer and easier. We used to do larger cuts up and down the leg but now incisions are just an inch long. Smaller incisions can lead to a faster recovery because the procedure is not as physiologically impactful. Scopes and robots are also helpful in limiting the extensiveness of the operation.

Q: What do you want someone who is diagnosed with coronary heart disease to be aware of?
A: There are two ways to make the situation worse. The first is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist and not follow up with your doctors. The second way is to act fatalistic about your lifestyle. These individuals know their health habits need to change but are reluctant to do it.

Typically, a cardiovascular examination will start with a stress test. Depending on these results, your doctor may prescribe medication or elect to do a more extensive examination of your coronary arteries that can reveal blockages and other blood flow issues. If you are then diagnosed with coronary heart disease, try to avoid going into denial. Stay on top of it, get regular checkups and work with your doctors to openly address any lifestyle risk factors.

Q: Do you have any additional heart health advice to share?
A: You can always change your behavior to reduce risk factors. Most importantly, don’t smoke. Go to the doctor to get regular checkups. If you have high blood pressure, take your medication. Get a blood pressure kit at home and check your numbers once or twice a day. Log your numbers and share them with your doctor so your medication can be adjusted as needed. Cholesterol levels need to be monitored and managed. Exercise three to four times a week minimum and maintain a healthy diet.

Additional Resources

Learn more about Baylor Medicine Cardiology or call 713–798–2545 to request an appointment.

See cardiothoracic surgery services at Baylor.

-By Bertie Taylor, senior writer in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine

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