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Published on February 01, 2015

Simple Ways to a Healthy Heart

SIOUX FALLS (Feb. 1, 2015) – Supplements, super foods, achieving your target heart rate… keeping up with all the latest tips for heart health can seem complicated. But it doesn’t have to be, according to David Nagelhout, MD, FACC, of North Central Heart, a division of the Avera Heart Hospital.

“The biggest thing is to adopt a healthy lifestyle, starting at a relatively young age,” Dr. Nagelhout said. Eat right, don’t smoke, get as much exercise as you can, and minimize stress. Certainly there are those people who have heart disease in their genes. “But the vast majority of people can markedly reduce their risk for coronary artery disease, which is in large part preventable.”

Unfortunately, many Americans live quite the opposite, eating fast food and high-fat choices, and spending most of the day sitting behind a desk or on the couch. “There’s a major epidemic of obesity and diabetes, which is all interrelated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease,” Dr. Nagelhout said.

Heart disease is the top killer of both men and women, even though a lot of attention goes to cancer. “Women are much more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer,” he said.

It’s best to get at least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise a day for five to six days a week.  Yet exercise is a continuum, Dr. Nagelhout said. “A little is better than nothing.”

A 40-minute workout – swimming, biking, walking, Zumba, or working out on an elliptical – is optimal, but if you can break up your day with 10 minutes of activity four to five times a day, that’s the next best choice. A combination of activities can help you keep from getting bored with your workouts.

You might not be able to control the fact that you have to sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day. But you can control how you spend your time in the evenings or weekends. Even if you’re a busy mom with no time to go to the gym, engage your kids in active play during the early evenings, or do some household chores, gardening or yard work… anything but plopping down on the couch for three hours.

When you plan outings or vacations, look for those choices that emphasize activity, such as hiking or walking.

Dr. Nagelhout says he often recommends the Mediterranean-type diet to his patients – a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon. “There are blue zones – certain pockets in Greece, Italy, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan, where people have remarkable longevity,” he said. The keys seem to be an active lifestyle and a Mediterranean-type diet.

There are “super foods” that are good for your heart, such as salmon, red wine, blueberries, almonds, oatmeal, pomegranates, acai berries or spinach. Don’t be afraid to try new natural, colorful choices.

Get screened regularly for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. If your provider prescribes medication to control these conditions, be diligent about taking it.

“Statin medications have made a big difference in people who have coronary artery disease, lowering their risk for heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Nagelhout said. But don’t consider statins your ticket to eat whatever you want and remain inactive. “Medications definitely work in combination with lifestyle changes,” he said.

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