One of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy heart is to not smoke. More than 150,000 U.S. adults 35 years old and older die from smoking-related cardiovascular disease, and smokers have a significantly increased risk of having a heart attack. One cigarette is too many. The benefits of quitting occur after just a few months. We do not have a lot of data regarding e-cigarettes or vaping. But one recent study looked at data on individuals with a history of using e-cigarettes and found that compared to nonsmokers, e-cigarette users had a 25% higher risk of having a heart attack. There are multiple ways to quit smoking. Some medications can be helpful and you should discuss these with your primary care provider.
Maintaining a good diet and healthy weight, along with a regular exercise plan, are also key steps to a healthy heart. A healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, and is high in fiber with foods like nuts, whole grains and seeds, as well as foods with a low glycemic index. Also, you should include good fats like omega-3s. Saturated fats, processed meats, refined grains and sugary drinks should be avoided as well as limiting your salt. A healthy weight is considered to be a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less. Exercise is important and reduces your risk of heart disease and dying from heart disease. The goal is 30 minutes of moderate activity 5-7 days a week. If you are unable to do this level of activity, doing more than you are used to doing is better than nothing at all.
Managing your risk factors for heart disease is also very important. The optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, your goal is at least less than 130/80. Cholesterol management is based upon your risk for heart disease. Generally speaking, the “bad cholesterol,” or LDL, should be below 160. But if you are at moderate risk for heart disease, you may need a medication for cholesterol, called a statin. Lastly, if you have diabetes, strict control is important. The general goal for people with diabetes is an A1c of less than 7. This may be stricter for some people, like type 1 diabetics, or less strict for patients at risk for low blood sugar from treatment, like the elderly.
Our community is fortunate, as Cone Health is one of America’s 100 best hospitals for cardiac care, according to Healthgrades, the leading online resource for comprehensive information about hospitals. The Healthgrades designation includes Annie Penn Hospital, Moses Cone Hospital and Wesley Long Hospital, collectively listed as Cone Health. Cone Health has an exceptional network of primary care physicians, and heart and vascular specialists dedicated to helping patients maintain wellness and lower their risk of developing conditions such as heart disease.
Scott Weaver, PAC, is a certified physician assistant with Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare at Church Street. He received his Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his master's degree in physician assistant studies from East Carolina University. He was also in the U.S. Army Reserves from 2000-2008. Weaver has practiced in cardiology since 2001.