Heart Healthy Lifestyle FAQs

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What dietary changes can I make to reduce my heart disease risk?

A moderate heart healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Add foods such as fruits and vegetables, grains, fish, lean meats, beans, eggs, nuts and fat-free or low-fat milk products like milk, cheese and yogurt to your diet. Foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar can increase the risk of high blood pressure, clogged arteries, hypertension and stroke and should be minimized.

Diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease. A diet low in carbohydrates can help to manage your diabetes and your heart-disease risk; ask your doctor for more information.

What exercises are appropriate for cardiovascular health?

In addition to keeping a healthy diet, regular exercise can also help you keep your heart in great shape. Aerobic exercises such as running, brisk walking, swimming and biking are great for heart health because they increase oxygen production in your body. Exercises that improve flexibility, such as yoga and Pilates, are also helpful. Strength training can help increase muscle mass and tone and help with weight control.

The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 to 60 minute of moderate intensity exercise three to four days a week. If you are only beginning to exercise, do not force your body – gradually increase the exercise intensity as your cardiovascular fitness improves.

If you have heart disease, you should consult with your primary care provider or cardiologist before embarking on an exercise program.

Conditions & Symptoms

I sometimes feel I have an irregular heartbeat, but I’m not sure if it is anything serious. How long should I wait to see the doctor?

Irregular heartbeats are very common and are usually benign. Stress and excessive caffeine can commonly induce irregular heartbeats. However, there are heart-rhythm disorders that do require evaluation and treatment. If you are having symptoms of an irregular heartbeat, it would be best to be evaluated by your primary care provider or by a cardiologist.

What is angina, and how do you treat it?

If your heart muscle is not getting enough blood due to narrowed or blocked blood vessels, you might feel pain or a sense of discomfort or pressure in the upper body, neck or chest. These pains are called angina. Angina is generally brought on by physical or emotional stress and can go away with rest or medication.

Continuing anginal symptoms that don’t respond rest or medication may be a symptom of heart attack. If you are experiencing prolonged chest pain, you should seek medical assistance immediately.

I was told I have a heart murmur.  What does this mean?

If you listened to the sound of your heart with a stethoscope, you would hear the sound of heart valves closing, which creates the typical sound of a heartbeat. Normally, blood easily flows into and out of the heart, so we don’t hear it. If there is a narrowed or leaking valve, blood flow becomes turbulent and changes the sound of a heartbeat, creating a murmur.

Younger people can often have benign murmurs that don’t affect the heart’s function or indicate a structural problem. Echocardiography lets your doctor make sure that your heart’s murmur isn’t a cause for concern.