Part 1: Heart Disease Prevention with Exercise & Diet
Researchers in the area of heart care have been busy lately getting treatment options once considered futuristic ready for clinical use. So, today, a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm exists for many different heart-related conditions, including new approaches for heart attacks and diagnostic imaging.
However, before I shed light on a few of the treatments coming down the pike—including advanced diagnostic tests—I want to talk about the importance of preventative care in part one of this series.
The Importance of Prevention
When patients ask me about heart disease or have questions about their health in general, the first thing I do is mention the importance of controlling blood pressure. You can’t always see heart disease, but you can see numbers. An excellent way to manage blood pressure is by exercising and eating a low salt diet. “Exercise is medicine,” and by simply exercising “low and slow” you can reap the benefits. In fact, it’s fairly typical after exercising to have a 12-point drop in the systolic number (the top number of your blood pressure) and a 7-point drop in the diastolic number (the bottom number). These exercise-induced effects on blood pressure will last over a few hours, and over time those hours add up.
Exercise also lowers bad cholesterol, raises good cholesterol, and lowers triglycerides. It’s this combination that helps reduce, or even reverse, plaque build-up in your arteries. And that’s what heart disease is –the build-up of plaque in the arteries, specifically, the coronary arteries. In fact, the specific role of the coronary arteries is to provide a path to deliver the vital oxygen demanded by your heart for all the work it does. Incidentally, the word coronary refers to a crown or a coronation, which certainly suits the name of these arteries since their location crowns the heart.
When the question, “just how much exercise should I be doing?” comes up, I explain that exercise gives you energy. Exercising for three 10-minute rounds or two 15-minute rounds has the same benefits as doing a straight 30 minutes of exercise. So, the take-home message is, three 10-minute rounds of exercise, such as walking in your neighborhood or moving around the house, can be just as good as one 30-minute round. The most important thing is to use good judgment and adjust your routine based on your schedule and your condition.
Evidence shows, however, that the benefits of exercise are dose-dependent. This means more is better when it comes to exercise. The guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine say that when it comes to heart care, 150 minutes/week of steady-state, continuous activity which elevates your heart rate is important. This goal can be achieved simply by walking – or even by moving your arms and legs while seated on a good exercise machine. As for our experiences with exercise equipment in the cardiac rehab gym, we get a lot of great use out of our NuStep machines. NuSteps are seated-exercise machines that can challenge the fitness of patients who don’t walk very as well those who consider themselves avid walkers. Furthermore, easy resistance-type exercises with light dumbbells are quite beneficial and shouldn’t be over-looked. In fact, our cardiac rehab team enjoys helping patients reach their goals as much as we appreciate working with their doctors to customize the best plan possible for somebody who’s coming in. It’s a team effort – and that team includes you.
I also like to point out that while exercise plays an important part in controlling body weight, diet is perhaps more important. For many people, proper portions, a reasonable intake of calories, and smart food choices serve as excellent ways to manage weight. But, a low salt diet helps reduce water retention while keeping blood vessels pliable, offering benefits for blood pressure management. Even though some salt is needed for basic body functions, one of the side-effects is that salt stiffens arteries. Basically, I tell patients that common sense prevails when diet is one of their concerns.
The final aspect of preventative care I’ll mention is the timely and proper taking of medications. With this in mind, another advantage of having the cardiac rehab staff nearby is that we can track your progress and update your doctor if a need should arise for medication adjustments. We can also teach you how to track your own progress.
Tune in next week to learn more about recent innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.
In the January/February 2020 issue of Radiologic Technology, Kevin Wininger, an exercise physiologist and radiology technologist with Fisher-Titus Heart & Vascular, wrote about the innovative treatments that researchers are pioneering in heart care. He works in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and the Pacemaker / ICD Clinic. For a closer look at Kevin’s article, “Biomimicry and Bioengineering in Cardiovascular Care,” visit: www.radiologictechnology.org. Visit fishertitus.org/heart for more information about our Heart & Vascular services.