Erik Berger, MD, Internal Medicine Specialist, SCL Health Medical Group-Lafayette
Payal Kohli, MD, Cardiovascular Disease Specialist and Preventive Cardiology Expert, SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute-Lafayette
1. Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Your blood pressure indicates how forcefully your heart is pumping blood through your body and is one of the top risk factors for both heart disease and stroke. Maintaining a healthy range is the biggest thing you can do to modify your risk.
Berger: “Longstanding high blood pressure can double your risk of heart disease. But it’s also something you can immediately improve; 30 minutes of exercise can lower one or both numbers.”
While most cases of high blood pressure require pharmacologic or medical therapy, some cases can be treated with exercise and weight loss.
2. Exercise regularly.
Most experts recommend 150 minutes per week, which can be divided among the days any way you like.
How rigorous? Dr. Berger and Dr. Kohli both describe it as consistent, intentional exercise. A power walk, soft jog, stationary bike, laps in a pool. It does not require special equipment or a gym membership unless you want it to.
3. Stop smoking.
Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke and exacerbates other risk factors you might have, such as high blood pressure and stroke, especially if you are a woman. Quitting immediately lowers your risk.
Kohli: “Smoking is a killer. Not if, but when. Second-hand smoke also kills. We are learning more about marijuana — it may have toxins that can increase blood clotting, which can increase both your heart attack and stroke risks.”
4. Eat foods that are good for you.
Limit foods from animal products and limit portion size. Increase your fruits and vegetables, whole grains and foods with healthy fats, such as fish and nuts. Intentional eating will keep your weight down and give you the nutrition you need.
Kohli: “Food is the best medicine, and a healthy diet will help you maintain a healthy weight as you age and your metabolism slows down. A healthy diet also will keep your cholesterol level down, which can increase with age.”
Berger: “There’s no shortcut here; supplements are no substitute for exercise and good nutrition. We live in a first-world nation with a bounty of healthful foods. Consume your nutrients naturally, with thoughtful eating.”
Final Words of Advice for Healthy Living
Berger: “Think about what motivates you and use that to make healthy choices every day. Doing something, anything healthy, is better than another day of doing nothing.”
Kohli: “Take active steps toward adopting a healthier lifestyle and work with your doctor to reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. That includes eating well, staying active, recognizing your risk factors and maybe taking medications to reduce one of your risk factors, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.