It’s National Heart Month and healthcare providers are painting the town red as we always do in February. But what does all the fuss really mean? How does all of the news in cardiac care impact you and your loved ones? Well, there are two main things that are important for you to know.
ONE: we are making amazing strides in combating heart disease, the nation’s number one killer.
There are better medications available, allowing your primary care doctor and your cardiologist to help you control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, prevent blood clots and slow the advancement of coronary artery disease.
We have more refined screening tests, and we’re better at interpreting the results, allowing us to tailor your care to match the unique combination of factors that define your condition—and we can adjust the care as your circumstances change.
We continue to perfect our techniques for repairing damage to your heart and your cardiovascular system in ways that drastically reduce the need for incisions, allowing many procedures to be performed without an overnight hospital stay—something unimaginable just a decade ago.
And for advanced disease, even the “major” surgeries are now performed in minimally invasive ways. In fact, thanks to the groundbreaking technology of our Hybrid Operating Rooms at Maimonides Medical Center, we can now safely perform multiple procedures under one anesthesia, further shortening hospital stays and improving outcomes for patients.
So, the extent to which we can detect, manage, repair and correct heart disease is quite stunning in this day and age.
Partially due to all of the above, we are collectively living longer. And while that is certainly good news, there is a potential downside: as we age, more of us will need to be treated for heart disease. And that leads us to a discussion of our other important message.
TWO: We can learn to minimize our health risks and fully enjoy a longer lifespan in this golden age of modern medicine and advanced technology.
You probably have a lot of questions about what you should do first. Should I take an aspirin a day? Is dark chocolate good for heart disease? Is it OK to drink red wine with dinner? Which supplements will help me beat the odds? Do I need special exercise machines?
You hear these stories in the news and on the internet all the time. But we’re here to tell you:
Take a breath and relax. In fact, reducing stress overall is one way to reduce your risk of heart disease! You can lower stress levels by avoiding the things that trigger your tension in the first place. If that’s not possible, find other ways to relax. For some, exercise works best. For others, sitting quietly outdoors, or simply reading a book or magazine as a diversion can work wonders. Find your best stress relieving pastime, and do it often.
Ignore the constant news of gimmicks and short-cuts to good health, and think instead of the common sense advice you’ve heard through the years. It may seem like a cliché, but moderation really is key. Too much of anything can cause health problems, so think about your habits and make a few small changes.
Be aware of your key numbers and consult your doctor on ways to improve them. We’re talking primarily about blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and blood sugar—your doctor will check these regularly when you have your check-ups.
Know as much as possible about your family health history. Your doctor will know what’s important in that history—and will recommend additional screening tests if you are at higher risk for certain kinds of heart disease. And don’t worry: we can’t help what we’ve inherited in terms of risk factors, but there’s still plenty we can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce our risks. Read on.
Eat healthy. For most people this simply means adding more vegetables and whole grains to your diet, and minimizing refined sugar and added salt. Most people don’t have to give up anything—just eat more of the good stuff, like our mothers always told us to do. And less of the bad stuff. Period.
Become more active. Take a brisk walk every day. Yes, it really is that simple. You don’t need special equipment or a gym membership. But, if joining a program of some kind appeals to you, don’t rule it out. In addition to the known health benefits of regular exercise, joining a group with a friend can improve your chances of sticking with a healthier routine.
Unplug from the digital world on a regular basis. We’re all likely to be using at least two electronic devices every day—and many of us use four or more. These modern miracles of communication can make many parts of our lives easier, but their hazards outweigh their benefits if we let them take over our lives.
Socialize with family, friends and neighbors. We recommend that all of our patients speak to their favorite people in person—as often as possible. Join clubs and volunteer to help others. All of these activities have been shown to improve your health, both physically and mentally.
If you have mild symptoms of any kind, let your doctor check you and determine if you need additional help, or screening tests or medications. You’re not alone in your quest to achieve wellness.
And if you have a sudden noticeable symptom—tightness or pain in the chest, irregular or rapid heartbeat, swelling in your legs, fainting—don’t go to the internet. Go to the ER of a Heart Hospital like Maimonides Medical Center for immediate evaluation. Getting the right care, right away, can save your life. It can also make the difference between a life with many limitations or a full recovery.
In short, the two key things are: We’re beating heart disease with amazing breakthroughs every day, and each of us can improve our cardiovascular health in small ways—beginning today.
Now you know what the fuss is all about. Let’s use Heart Month as a reminder to be good to ourselves, make healthier choices, enjoy life more fully and continue to win the battle against heart disease.
The authors lead the prestigious Heart & Vascular Institute at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, ranked #1 in New York for cardiac care, and among the nation’s best heart hospitals as measured by both NYS and the federal government. For more information about the many groundbreaking achievements of the cardiovascular team at Maimonides, log-on to nycHeart.org or call 718.283.8902.