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Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America.
Part of avoiding it is thinking about what you want life to be like 10 to 20 years from now, said Dr. Garland Green, a cardiologist at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Bluebonnet.
“Do I want to be the guy they roll out of the back on holidays and say, ‘How you doing, Grandpa?’ and, as soon as the holidays are over, they roll you back to that back room?” Green said at a recent seminar at the hospital. “Do you want to be that person? None of us do. But the question is: What are you willing to do to prevent that?”
Here's Green's 10 tips for a healthy heart:
1. Know your cholesterol numbers and get to your target.
“It’s not good enough to know my cholesterol is high,” Green said. “I want you to know what your LDL cholesterol should be.”
Total cholesterol should be below 200. For most people, LDL cholesterol should be less than 130, and even lower for people with high blood pressure or other cardiac risk factors (less than 100) or those who already have had heart disease (less than 70). HDL cholesterol — the good cholesterol — should be 40 or higher for men and 50 or higher for women.
2. If you have high blood pressure, test it regularly.
Don’t trust how you feel.
“If your blood pressure is high enough to give you a headache, it’s probably high enough to give you a stroke,” Green said.
High blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack and kidney failure, Green said. "That’s not what you want.”
A healthy blood pressure reading should be between 120/80 and 90/50, Green said.
3. High blood pressure? Cut back on sodium.
It isn’t easy, especially in south Louisiana.
“If you have high blood pressure, a crawfish boil is not for you,” he said. “Just let it go.”
Avoid foods typically high in sodium: canned foods; processed foods; condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise and barbecue sauce; sodas; smoked meats; even biscuits. Buy fresh or frozen vegetables, not canned, where sodium is used as a preservative.
Buy a low-sodium cookbook and start experimenting with herbs instead of salt to create flavor. And don’t be fooled by Creole seasoning mixes — most are high in salt.
4. Diet and nutrition
Eat foods high in lean meat and protein, low in carbohydrates. As for dairy, choose skim milk or alternative products such as almond milk. Avoid potatoes, pasta, bread and other flour-based products, corn and — another challenge in this area — rice.
“Beans are actually pretty good for you until you pile them on top of the rice,” Green said. “I’m not trying to take the beans away. I’m just trying to take the rice away.”
Green recommends choosemyplate.gov for diet guidance.
Inactivity is the No. 1 reason for obesity and diabetes and contributes to heart disease. Green recommends 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, six days a week.
“People say, ‘I’m too busy.’ Really?” he said. “What are you doing that requires that you can’t get up 30 minutes earlier or go to bed 30 minutes later? Break it up. Do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening.”
6. Stop smoking
It causes or contributes to all sorts of diseases. Join a cessation class. In many cases, if medications are required, classes provide them without charge.
“There are so many reasons to stop, so many ways that we have to help you stop,” Green said. “Please, if you smoke, find help.”
7. Lose weight
Green recommends a body mass index of 27 or lower, which is a more relaxed standard than is often suggested. A BMI over 30 is obese; over 35 is morbidly obese. For anyone in those categories, losing 15-20 pounds dramatically lowers risks. You can calculate your BMI at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
8. Learn to deal with stress.
Set realistic goals. Reject excessive demands on your time.
“‘No’ is a complete sentence,” he said. “It does not require explanation.”
Meditation and exercise combat stress, and they can be done simultaneously, he noted.
If you have diabetes, know your blood glucose numbers, keep track of them and know what you need to do to keep them where they need to be.
10. Family history
Know your family medical history. You can't do anything about it, but you can use it to know where you might be vulnerable, Green advised.
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