Have A Heart!

And keep it hearty. A Hackensack-based cardiologist offers tips for your ticker.
Portrait Of Laughing Woman Building Heart With Her Fingers


Are you doing all you can to protect your cardiovascular health? For American Heart Month in February, the American Heart Association urges everyone to be proactive in preventing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. 

Knowing if you’re at risk is the first step in the right direction. “You should start having the discussion with your physician about risk factors when you’re 20 years old,” says Ryan Kaple, M.D., an interventional cardiologist who directs the Structural and Congenital Heart Program at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Factors include a family history of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. Risk factors should be evaluated every four to six months after that, because profiles can change.” 

The next step is to maintain a healthful weight and diet. (How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?) And Dr. Kaple has a half-dozen other suggestions: 

  • SET GOALS. Whether or not you’re at high risk for heart disease, you should establish objectives for major factors that help determine cardiac health: cholesterol, blood pressure, exercise and weight. “Make sure you and your physician have a clear set of goals,” says the doctor. He also recommends that households have a home blood-pressure kit. “Check your blood pressure regularly and log the information in a journal along with date, weight and other vitals so you can pass it along to doctors easily. This is a great tool for discussion and makes you take ownership of your health.” 
  • GET MOVING. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says adults need 150 minutes of moderateto-intense physical activity a week. Fitting in a workout around office jobs and family obligations, however, isn’t always easy. In those situations, creating a new routine might work. “People with sedentary jobs may find it hard to get physical activity, so some changes may be needed,” Dr. Kaple says. “Take a longer route to walk to work or use the stairs as much as possible. Make time in the beginning of the day to do wall sits or set a timer to get up and do air squats.” A brisk walk during lunchtime, either outdoors or inside your office suite, can lower your risk of high blood pressure. The cardiologist also recommends using elastic exercise bands or doing leg and calf raises at your desk to keep muscles limber. 
  • RAISE A GLASS. It’s true, folks, a glass of red wine a day can improve cardiac health. That’s because red wine contains natural compounds called flavonoids, which are known for their overall health benefits, says Dr. Kaple. (The same flavonoids are also found in fruits and vegetables.) “But wine intake should not exceed one glass a day,” the cardiologist says, adding that alcohol use is not safe for everyone. 
  • TUNE IN TO YOUR FAVORITE MELODIES. We know music can affect mood, but it can impact how our heart feels too. Listening to slower-tempo music can decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as your heart rate, according to a study published in the journal Heart. “Soothing music,” the cardiologist notes, “can activate the relaxation sensors in the nervous system. This can reduce respiratory rate, anxiety and blood pressure.” Faster music, on the other hand, will give your ticker a workout. Louder volumes and quicker beats can cause increases in blood pressure and heart rate. 
  • PROTECT YOUR SMILE. People who are diligent about dental hygiene are more likely to care for overall health, including cardiovascular health. But the correlation between oral and heart health goes beyond attitude. According to the Mayo Clinic, poor dental health increases the risk of inflammation and bacterial infection in the circulatory system, which can have an adverse effect on heart valves. Gum disease also increases the risk of developing heart disease. 
  • ASK ABOUT ASPIRIN. A once-a-day aspirin can lower the risk of heart attack or stroke, but talk to your primary care physician before you add it to your daily medications. “Patients with cardiovascular and artery disease and those who’ve suffered a stroke can benefit from a daily aspirin, but it’s a decision that should be made with a physician,” Dr. Kaple says. While aspirin is safe for occasional use to relieve headaches and muscle soreness, daily use can have side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding. “The decision to take it depends a lot on one’s risk of bleeding,” says the doctor.
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