Written By: Chester M. Hedgepeth, MD, Chief of Cardiology, Kent Hospital on March 17, 2021
Great health can be defined in a number of ways. Some consider it to simply be ‘the absence of disease’, while others consider it to be the ‘ability to perform all desired activities free of any health concern.’ In any of the definitions, it is clear that once one attains a state of good health, it is important to maintain it in an effort to prevent the onset of disease, especially chronic ones like cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of adults in the US
The prevalence of heart disease is, unfortunately, growing, largely driven by societal increases in obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Billions and billions of dollars are spent yearly on treating patients with the most severe forms of heart disease. As a cardiologist, helping patients maintain their heart health has been my top professional priority and that of our team of cardiovascular professionals at Care New England.
In these difficult times of COVID-19 and social unrest, environmental, lifestyle, and medical stressors may unmask or speed the progression of heart disease. Acknowledging stress and taking steps to mitigate its effects on medical health should be a top priority. Yoga, mindfulness training, and meditation can all be helpful. In some situations where stress affects the ability to perform daily activities, medical therapy or counseling with a professional may be required.
In addition to a focus on removing stress from one’s life, attention should be paid to other complementary factors which influence heart health including sleep and exercise. Establishing proper sleep hygiene and making sleep a priority pays huge dividends for patients as it is during sleep that our bodies recover from the day’s stress and medical insults and our hearts and vascular system get a chance to rest.
The benefits of cardiovascular exercise have been well established
During the summer months, when the weather is better in the northeast, it is imperative that we set aside time for cardiovascular exercise. This can take the form of brisk walking, biking, running, or swimming. There are also many other ways to achieve the prescribed 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise that the American Heart Association recommends. Exercise at this level has been linked to cardiovascular disease prevention.
‘You are what you eat.’ This saying is often used, but couldn’t be more relevant for all of us. The foods we put in our body are converted to energy which fuels our ability to perform tasks and interact with our loved ones. Natural, unprocessed foods, like vegetables, should make up the majority of our daily diet and processed sugary foods and drinks that are high in carbohydrates, should be avoided.
It is these processed foods that have fueled the acceleration of many of the chronic diseases which burden our society including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. People who have combinations of chronic diseases are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and associated complications including heart attack and stroke.
Staying cardiovascularly healthy and maintaining optimal cardiac health requires avoiding self-injury. In addition to making the right decisions related to exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress, it is equally important to avoid negative influences such as tobacco product use. Cigarette use has been linked to cancers and cardiovascular disease. Stroke and peripheral artery disease are more common in those who smoke and absolute smoking cessation has been linked to improvements in heart and vascular disease. For our cardiac patients at Care New England, we exhaust all available medical and therapy options to get them to stop smoking.
Heart health should be a top priority for us all. Having goals and creating a plan to stay healthy which incorporates time for exercise, stress reduction, healthy eating and enough time for sleep is essential. The benefits of this plan based approach will be reaped over time with improved energy, avoidance of heart disease, and a higher quality of life.