Heart Health

Doctor provides simple tips to reduce risk of a cardiovascular event

Blue Cross Blue Shield — Michigan employees in Grand Rapids Go Red for women during National Heart Health month. BCBS provides heart healthy tips for February and all year round. (Courtesy photo)

MARQUETTE — As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With that in mind, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan reminds us that lifestyle changes represent the ounce of prevention every individual needs to stay heart healthy.

Heart related events are the leading cause of death in the United States, according to a BCBS press release. In fact, every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. dies as the result of cardiovascular disease — a condition that affects everyone irregardless of gender, race and health backgrounds.

Even though the end of February, also known as American Heart Month, is fast approaching, it is important to focus on manageable lifestyle changes that can be implemented by people of all genders, races, ages or health background to improve heart health, BCBS-M deputy chief medical officer Dr. George S. Kipa said.

“I think the most important tip is to know yourself,” Kipa said. “Know your blood pressure, your cholesterol and BMI (Body Mass Index) all those are modifiable.”

Other tips include getting at least six to eight hours of quality sleep each night to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Too little or too much sleep can raise blood pressure, increase the release of stress hormones and weaken the immune system,” Kipa said.

He recommends setting a “go-to-bed” alarm each night can be a reminder to turn off screens, wind down and begin the bedtime process to establish a healthy sleep routine.

Maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet is crucial in reducing the risk of heart disease, Kipa said.

“All individuals should limit their intake of excess empty calories, trans-fats, sodium, red meat and sugary or processed foods,” he said. “Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats help the body function properly and maintain a healthy weight.”

He recommends meal planning and batch cooking for the week ahead are two ways to make nutritious meals more convenient.

Exercise is also key, Kipa said. He suggests adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week along with two to three strength training sessions.

“A chronically sedentary lifestyle heightens the risk of heart disease by raising blood pressure, increasing stress and diminishing an individual’s overall mental and physical well-being over time,” Kipa said.

The American Heart Association suggests obese patients focus on diet, aerobic exercise and in some cases, medically-supervised weight loss programs. Keeping a workout routine interesting by incorporating new and fun forms of exercise helps combat burnout and lack of motivation.

Kipa also said knowledge of family history can be a good tool for both patients and health care professionals.

“Genetics is an uncontrollable risk factor that influences an individual’s risk of developing heart disease. Identify if family members have a history with high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke or other forms of cardiovascular disease. Statistics show African-Americans and Hispanics have an increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke and high cholesterol. Talk to a family doctor for advice on how to limit these risk factors,” Kipa said.

Heart disease issues can be amplified by stress, he said. Though all people manage stress in different ways, the body reacts by releasing adrenaline causing the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to rise. Unfortunately, many choose to cope with stress by consuming alcohol, eating comfort foods or smoking, which only heightens the risk of heart disease.

But incorporating regular exercise, proper rest and a healthy diet into your lifestyle can help reduce stress levels.

Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in the United States and more than doubles the likelihood of a fatal heart attack, Kipa said.

“If you smoke and you stop that is probably No. 1 on the list,” Kipa said. “When an individual quits smoking, the lungs and body have the ability to progress and improve quickly. Just 20 minutes after smoking a cigarette, an individual’s heart rate and blood pressure drop. One year after quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s. Kicking the habit also eliminates the risks loved ones may face due to secondhand smoke.”

Knowing your numbers and forming a close relationship with a primary care doctor is a great way to assess the risk of heart disease and monitor existing conditions that may influence personal health goals, Kipa said. Annual visits and screenings are imperative to evaluate an individual’s risk of life-threatening cardiovascular events. Kipa also recommends visiting Blue Cross Blue Shield website for a health assessment and tips at bcbsm.com/health-assessment or inputting your information into a heart risk calculator such as the one that can be found at cvriskcalculator.com.

“You only have one heart, and you can’t live without that heart,” Kipa said.