We’re two months into the New Year, and you may have made a resolution to be healthier in 2015. Or maybe you are looking for ways to feel better. Maybe you’re tired of being tired and out of breath when you attempt simple tasks.
As a cardiologist who specializes in heart failure, I have many patients who come to my clinic with issues such as these. First, I evaluate them for heart disease. This may include laboratory tests, echocardiograms, or treadmill exercise tests. The results of these tests may lead to more invasive procedures such as angiograms or cardiothoracic surgery. Sometimes a serious cardiac or pulmonary condition is not diagnosed, yet the patients continue to have these progressive symptoms. In all cases, everyone gets the same message from me — Be Heart Smart.
To be heart smart, you have to take a serious look at what you are currently doing with your life. I focus on four areas: Sodium (salt), Calories, Smoking and Exercise. I find that all of these areas are equally hard for patients to gain control of.
Be Heart Smart
Stop. Smoking causes heart disease, pulmonary disease, and many cancers. However, you must want to stop before you can successfully quit. All the medications, classes and support groups won’t help unless you really want to stop smoking. My patients who have successfully quit have found something personal that motivated them to stop. I often ask them to name five reasons why they like to smoke, then we discuss ways they can achieve the same feeling they get from smoking with other activities.
Cut back. The first step is to educate yourself. Salt does not only come from the shaker; it is a major ingredient in all processed foods. Start reading labels and always remember salt = sodium.
Lowering your sodium intake can reduce your blood pressure, decrease water retention, and help with weight loss.
Find out how much sodium is in your daily diet. You can find just about any food item’s nutritional content online.
- The average American consumes more than 4,000 milligrams of sodium each day.
- The American Dietary Guideline recommends 2,300 mg per day.
- I restrict some of my heart failure patients to less than 1,500 mg per day.
Foods high in salt:
- Fast food anything
- Canned soup
- Frozen dinners
- Lunch meats
- Snack chips
- Chicken/beef broth
- Seasoning mixes (steak, grill, etc.)
Of course, you should lose the saltshaker. I instruct many of my patients to avoid going out to restaurants until they know how to cook at home. Go back to the basics and explore a variety of herbs in your cooking: oregano, basil, rosemary, cilantro, chili powder, and many others. If you don’t know what to pick, just smell them in the grocery store; use your nose to choose. Tonight, pick three that you wouldn’t normally have used before and combine them in a chicken dish with a little olive oil and lots of your favorite fresh veggies.
Eat less. To lose weight you need to understand that it is not just a numbers game but also a metabolism game. Be honest with yourself with how much you are eating. Portion control is very important. There are many free phone-based apps now that can help you count your calories and show your progress. If you’re unsure where to start, try the DASH diet, supported by the American Heart Association. I like it because it is cheap and simple. It is not a fad diet. Rather it teaches you how to eat healthy for the rest of your life.
Exercise more. Yes, exercise does help you lose weight but only if you combine it with smart eating habits. Exercise in general is a way make you feel better and become stronger. As you age, your muscles can lose tone and strength, especially if you’ve lived a sedentary life-style. I advise my patients to “sweat” for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Choose an exercise or two you enjoy. For beginners, start out with a modest level of exertion and increase the intensity in 1-minute intervals during your exercise period – interval training.
The Key to Success
My patients who take being heart smart to heart feel better. Once on a routine, they are surprised how much more energy they have. Some have lost weight, a few have stopped smoking, and most have less shortness of breath. They admit it is not easy, but it is worth it. So talk to your doctor and get busy. Take control of your life. Be Heart Smart.
Dr. Blake Wachter, M.D., PhD, F.A.C.C. is a cardiology specialist at Teton Valley Health Care. She sees patients at the Driggs Health Clinic. To make an appointment or for more information call (208) 354-2302 .More