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Take Heart—Insights to Protect Your Ticker

Take Heart—Insights to Protect Your Ticker

When it comes to heart health you’ve all heard it a million times: Keep your lousy LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and weight in the normal range and chances are you can cut your risk for clogged arteries, angina, heart attack and stroke, and lower your RealAge. Yet cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects 85.6 million American adults and is the number one killer of men and women. But it’s not just older folks who have such health problems. While 43.7 million Americans with CVD are 60 or older, 39.9 million are younger than 60!

That’s why it’s worth repeating the basics of good heart health—and then exploring a couple of new ways to protect your ticker.

The Five Steps
A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found men could reduce their risk of heart attack 80 percent by following these five steps—and we know they work for women too!

  • Step One: Upgrade your diet. Reduce inflammation and excess belly fat by eliminating the Five Food Felons (all trans and most sat fat; added sugars and syrups; any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole).
  • Step Two: Get moving. You’ll improve your metabolism and muscle and vascular tone by getting in 10,000 steps a day or the equivalent.  
  • Step Three: Maintain a healthy waist circumference (measure with a sucked-in belly button): 35 inches or less for women; 37 or less for men.
  • Steps Four and Five: If you smoke, quit. And avoid all second-and third hand smoke. Limit your alcohol intake to one glass of wine a day for women and two for men.

But there’s more. Here are two additional steps you can take to protect your heart that are simple and effective.

Eat breakfast: A study of 4,000 adults ages 40 to 54 shows that people who eat a hearty breakfast (more than 20 percent of daily calories consumed in the morning meal) end up with less artery-clogging plaque in their arteries—a precursor to heart attack and stroke.

In the study group, 3 percent of folks skipped the meal altogether; 70 percent ate a relatively low-calorie breakfast; 27 percent were hearty eaters.

75 percent of the breakfast skippers had plaque build-up in their arteries; 64 percent of people who had a light breakfast did. But only 57 percent of hearty eaters showed any plaque buildup. Turns out, in addition to eating a good breakfast, hearty eaters also ate more fruit, veggies, lean meats and seafood and were less likely to be obese or have high blood pressure, diabetes or elevated cholesterol.

So, to slash you chances of CVD, follow the Five Smart Steps and make sure you get 100 percent whole grains, lean protein and fruits and/or veggies at breakfast every day.

Reducing your cholesterol and controlling hypertension through lifestyle and taking medications (statins for cholesterol, anti-hypertensives for blood pressure) works. In fact, lowering your cholesterol level by 1 percent lowers your risk for heart disease by 2 percent. And a Lancet study in 2014 found that achieving or maintaining a healthy blood pressure (120/80) could eliminate almost half of all strokes.

Talk to your doc about your heart health: Lifestyle choices (always the first step), early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are key to avoiding heart attacks, strokes and premature death. Unfortunately, women with heart disease get less aggressive intervention. For example, they’re prescribed statins less frequently. (Why? They’re less likely to be evaluated by a cardiologist.)

Delayed diagnosis has repercussions: By the time women are diagnosed they’re older and may have other health problems such as diabetes and obesity. A study in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery says that may be why women also are less likely to get life-saving, multi-arterial bypass surgery than men.

So, women, if you have heart-disease precursors or symptoms, ask your primary-care doc for a referral to a cardiologist. And guys too, don’t let another minute tick, tick, tick by that you neglect your ticker.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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