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Your keys to heart health

February 18, 2022 | Heart Health | Healthy You

People exercising in class with steps and large rubber balls

Staying active and a healthy diet should top your list.

Many patients who have experienced a cardiac event wonder how it will affect their future.

“Will this shave years off my life?”

“Will I ever be able to return to the activities I used to enjoy?”

Patients are often surprised to discover that with medication and other changes, they really can return to a satisfying lifestyle, noted Sushan Yang, MD, a cardiologist with the Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States, accounting for more than 869,000 deaths a year. But it’s reassuring and hopeful to know that 80% of heart attacks or other cardiovascular events are preventable through lifestyle changes.

Keep on moving

"I always advise my patients to stay active in any capacity they can," said Dr. Yang. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. But even small daily changes—frequently getting up and walking across the room instead of being sedentary, or standing instead of sitting—can make a difference.

Try a Mediterranean diet

With so many popular diets at our disposal, it can be confusing to choose the “best” regimen. "I always recommend the Mediterranean diet, which has been scientifically shown to improve cardiovascular health," Dr. Yang said. 

Fill most of your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, and add whole grains and legumes. Use olive oil and limit dairy and fat. Choose lean cuts of meat. Recipes and other resources for a heart healthy diet are available on PeaceHealth's blog and the American Heart Association.

She also advises patients to limit sodium intake. Sodium contributes to high blood pressure and fluid retention.

When reducing sodium, look beyond your salt shaker. Prepared meals, processed foods, frozen meals, canned foods, and snacks contain large amounts of hidden sodium. Cheese and deli meats are also big sodium offenders. You’d be surprised by how much salt is in a simple sandwich!

Stock up on fresh produce

It can be challenging for some patients to access affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. PeaceHealth collaborates with numerous community organizations to make it easier to find and afford fresh foods. Ask your clinic or provider about options near you.

Differences among men and women

Cardiovascular disease may present differently in men and women, and it’s important to be aware of these differences.

Men typically have “classic” symptoms when they develop a heart attack: crushing chest pain radiating to their jaw or arm, shortness of breath, heavy sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Women’s symptoms may be more subtle. The chest pain may not be very prominent, and it’s not always accompanied by shortness of breath or heavy sweating. It may feel like indigestion or anxiety. As a result, women are frequently misdiagnosed, which can delay life-saving treatment.

It is also important to keep track of your symptoms and pay close attention to any changes. For example, if you notice your chest pain has become more frequent, more severe, or is brought on by less activity, it is important to notify your doctor.

Dr. Yang added a final reminder not to delay care. Yes, health care systems have been challenged caring for the surge of patients with COVID-19, but cardiac teams at PeaceHealth and in our communities are taking proper precautions and have continued to see and treat patients throughout this pandemic. Prevention is as important as ever in maintaining a healthy heart.