16 Ways to be Heart-Smart - Omaha, Nebraska - CHI Health

16 Ways to be Heart-Smart

Article Date: Feb 4, 2014

Atul Ramachandran, M.D.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. Someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease every 90 seconds. That's about the time it takes you to walk to your mailbox outside.

Here's some important new research from the American Heart Association, combined with tips from Alegent Creighton Clinic Cardiologist Atul Ramachandran, M.D., to keep you heart-healthy:

  1. Watch those portions. Studies show women consumed an average of 22% more calories in 2004 than they did in 1971. The extra splurging translates into some scary statistics: 43% of Americans have cholesterol 200 or higher and 33% have high blood pressure. And they're carrying extra weight. "One of the three Americans is considered obese," Dr. Ramachandran said.

  2. A little means a lot. Controlling your high blood pressure at the same time you bring down your high cholesterol could cut your risk for heart disease by half or more. Exercise is a great way to do this, Dr. Ramachandran said. "Exercise helps decrease blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol."

  3. Giving up because you're middle-aged and out-of-shape? Research shows that it's not too late. Getting fit and improving diet—even in mid-life--reduces your risk of heart failure in later years. "I have patients well into their 80s who have lost weight by decreasing calories," Dr. Ramachandran said.

  4. Even a modest weight loss over two years in overweight or obese middle-aged women means more than a smaller dress size—it actuallycan reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. According to Dr. Ramachandran: "Even losing 10 pounds or 10 percent of your weight loss goal is good for you."

  5. Heart disease claims more lives of women than all forms of cancer combined. Women's heart attack symptoms often differ from men's. They're more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, sweating or jaw, shoulder or back pain.

  6. Don't skip breakfast. A 16-year study found men who reported skipping breakfast had a 27 % higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease. Dr. Ramachandran had this advice: "If you're going to skip a meal, skip a late dinner or late night snack."

  7. Do you really want that sugary soft drink? Researchers say sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks could be associated with 180,000 deaths around the world every year. "Eliminate sugared soft drinks and it will help you lose weight quicker," Dr. Ramachandran said. The American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 450 calories a week from sugar-sweetened drinks.

  8. Use that basketball hoop outside. People who exercised more than four hours a week in their leisure time had a 19% lower risk of high blood pressure than those who didn't exercise much. "And if you play with your kids, it will good for both of you," Dr. Ramachandran suggested. Interestingly, physical activity at work was not linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, according to the study.

  9. Don't overlook warning signs. A study of middle-aged men in Portland, Oregon found more than half had possible warning signs up to a month before they suffered sudden cardiac arrest. That's when the heart stops because of a failure in its electrical system. Those who had early warning symptoms had chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness or palpitations.

  10. New research also shows that smokers who quit cut their heart disease risk faster than originally thought. A person with coronary heart disease who continues to smoke is six times more likely to have another heart attack, Dr. Ramachandran cautioned.

  11. Don't stress out. Heart disease patients who suffer from anxiety have twice the risk of dying compared to those who do not have anxiety. It might be a good idea to "log off"—disconnect for 30 minutes or so from your phone, laptop or tablet. Being on constant "high alert" may cause stress-related high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.

  12. Ho-ho-no…Heart attacks spike during the holidays. So does a less serious condition called "holiday heart syndrome," an irregular heartbeat that may be caused by too much alcohol. "Try to limit alcohol," Dr. Ramachandran said. "A man should have two or fewer drinks a day, a woman one or fewer." In one study, a sociologist found heart attacks increased almost five percent on Christmas Day, the day after and on New Year's Day, possibly because people ignore symptoms in the holiday rush.

  13. Keep an eye on your kids. About 32% of children are overweight or obese. They also don't run as fast or as far as their parents did. From a cardiovascular standpoint, they're roughly 15% less fit than they parents at the same age—and a minute-and-a-half slower running a mile. "Encourage your kids to play outside," Dr. Ramachandran said. "Remember—your kid isn't going to become the next Kobe Bryant by playing the Kobe Bryant video game."

  14. Learn CPR. Just one minute of CPR video training for bystanders in a shopping mall could save lives in emergencies. Those who saw the CPR video were more likely to call 911 and start chest compression sooner.

  15. That cup of coffee may help perk up your blood vessels. Those who drank one cup of caffeinated coffee in one study had a 30% increase in blood flow over a 75 minute period compared with those who had decaffeinated coffee. "Tea, especially green tea, may be even better," Dr. Ramachandran said.

  16. Having a pet—especially a dog—can lower your risk of heart disease. That's because they walk more than non-dog owners. Pets overall are associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

"Life's Simple 7" from the American Heart Association

  1. Be physically active--40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise three to four times a week.
  2. Keep a healthy weight.
  3. Eat a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts with limited red meat and sugary foods.
  4. Maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
  5. Keep blood pressure down.
  6. Regulate blood sugar levels.
  7. Don't smoke.

Reader Comments
Posted: Feb 7 2014 12:27 AM CST by Krista

You speak of heart palpatations as a risk factor. I recently had to make a personal decision that I'm not sure was right. I discovered that being on cholesterol medicine, and then antibiotics seems to cause me to have severe heart palpatations. So, I felt I had to chose between the two and knowing that I am prone to sinus infections, and at least once a year upper respitory infections, I need to be able to take an antibiotic. I don't want to live with the danagers of high cholesterol, but I more scared of a stroke or heart failure due to the palpatations it seems to cause. Any suggestions?

Posted: Feb 7 2014 1:01 AM CST by L. McCowen

Thank you for this valuable information. I plan to share it with as many people I can.

Posted: Feb 10 2014 5:36 PM CST by Atul Ramachandran, M.D.


If you are having palpitations when taking the antibiotic and the cholesterol medication then you may want to stop the cholesterol medications during the time(1-2 weeks)you are also taking the antibiotic. The rest of the year you can continue to take the cholesterol lowering medication. If you are having severe palpitations then you should have it evaluated by you physician.

Posted: Feb 16 2014 10:07 PM CST by JAYASHREE PAKNIKAR, MD FAAFP

The one minute CPR training video can be added to ACC waiting
rooms to educate the patients and their family and friends

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