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Natural Awakenings Dallas -Fort Worth Metroplex Edition

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Never Too Soon to Be Heart-Healthy

Feb 01, 2021 08:30AM ● By Bernice Butler

Sreenivas Gudimetla

The importance of heart-healthy lifestyle behaviors cannot be overstated. For the first time, since 2010 or so, the U.S. has seen a much slower growth in life expectancy than comparable countries, and an actual decline in recent years. Studies have demonstrated that if we do not smoke, maintain a body mass index of less than 25, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and exercise greater than 150 minutes a week, cardiovascular event rates decrease very significantly—around 40 percent over a four-year period, according to studies.

Two specific diet types—the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet are felt to be the best diets for cardiovascular disease prevention. These are plant-based diets rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, lean meats, fish, poultry, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy products and heart-healthy fats. The DASH diet emphasizes foods that are lower in sodium and rich in potassium that could help lower blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet was based on dietary choices in countries such as Greece and Italy, where the population has a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.

It is also important for people to know their numbers. An optimal cholesterol level should be less than 170. The optimal HDL cholesterol level should be greater than 50. Target blood pressures should be in the 120/80 range or less. It is also important to know our blood sugar level, as diabetes mellitus is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and even considered a cardiovascular disease equivalent. Healthy lifestyle behaviors such as eating healthy, exercising and maintaining an appropriate body weight strongly reduce the risk of development of Type 2 diabetes later in life. Also, avoidance of smoking is critical toward cardiovascular risk reduction.

A powerful point to make is that healthy lifestyle behaviors make a far bigger difference in cardiovascular long-term health than what healthcare providers do to treat people after they develop symptomatic disease. It is important to remember that once people develop symptoms of cardiovascular disease (i.e., heart attacks, heart failure, strokes or other blood vessel-related diseases), progression of the disease at that stage is quite advanced and irreversible.

Healthy lifestyle behaviors have been shown to reduce the rate of advancement of cardiovascular diseases. It is vitally important to start when we are young and continue through adulthood. Doing so results in a markedly favorable impact on mortality and symptomatic disease later in life. We cannot control our genetics, and we cannot always control our socioeconomic status, which are also important contributors to cardiovascular health.

Individuals have a great deal of power for controlling their risk of cardiovascular diseases, so it is vitally important to teach and encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors early in life.

Cardiologist Sreenivas Gudimetla, M.D., practices at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, in Fort Worth and the Texas Health Physicians Group. For more information, visit Tinyurl.com/SreenivasGudimetlaMD.

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