10 things your cardiologist wants you to know

Sure, you should keep your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check. But getting there — and staying there — includes a multitude of physical, nutritional and emotional components. Here are cardiologists' top 10 secrets for getting heart healthy in a hurry.

10. Everyone should have a support team: Without a support system, it's nearly impossible to get and to stay healthy. The people you interact with determine what you do. Engage with your significant other, children, co-workers and friends to make healthy choices, and they will support you. A workout buddy will make you accountable; a colleague at work who wants to walk at lunch with you or track your progress together can make all the difference. — Dr. Malissa Wood, author of "Smart at Heart"

9. Healthy bones = a healthy heart. If you have any heart disease, you need to get screened for osteoporosis. Recent studies have shown that Americans are having fewer heart problems over time, and even those who have heart attacks are living longer without long-term heart problems. However, new epidemiological studies have also shown a significant increase in major fractures in patients with prior heart attacks. What it means is that while patients with heart disease have benefited from tremendous improvements in cardiovascular treatment, they're suffering a counterbalancing increase in noncardiac diseases such as osteoporotic bone fractures. — Dr. Robert Yeh, interventional cardiologist with Massachusetts General Hospital

8. Avoid canned soups. Most canned soups — in fact, most canned and packaged products — are high in sodium to preserve them. High-sodium diets increase your risk of high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. — Dr. Doreen DeFaria Yeh, cardiologist with Massachusetts General Hospital

7. Get a flu shot. It does much more than prevent that annoying winter sickness. Preventing respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, also helps prevent heart problems. — Dr. Doreen DeFaria Yeh

6. Know your numbers. Your optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHG. Fasting blood glucose should be less than 100 mg/dl. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dl. — Dr. Stephanie Moore, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School

5. Relax. Often, those at risk for heart disease lead very stressful lives. Mind-body therapies, such as yoga or tai chi, can help an at-risk person unwind and decrease their negative emotional stress. This will lead to decreased blood pressure. High blood pressure is the No. 1 risk factor for strokes. — Moore

4. Get a pet. Recent studies have shown the therapeutic effects of pets on heart health. After a pet visit, a decline in heart rates and blood pressure has been seen. If you don't want a pet full time, volunteer at a local animal shelter. — Moore

3. Choose the right type of exercise. Ask your doctor about the type of exercise you should be doing. Aerobic exercise is heart healthy. And while weight lifting and strength training are also great workouts, they can increase your blood pressure, and may be advised against if you have known coronary artery disease, heart muscle damage or dilation of your aorta. Exercise is necessary — just do the right type for you. — Moore

2. Work out in the morning. Those who exercise most successfully and most consistently do it in the morning before other things in life interfere. Even taking a full 30 minutes to walk the dog counts. — Dr. Mary Walsh, medical director of heart failure, cardiac transplantation and nuclear cardiology at St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana in Indianapolis

1. Own it. Most people only visit their doctor annually — so it's important to keep track of your health at home and share your results with your doctor. Owning a blood pressure cuff (Panasonic EW3109W Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor, $38 at amazon.com) can literally save your life. Having high blood pressure but not controlling it results in a greater risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure. — Walsh

These tests can help save your heart

Ask your doctor to give you these tests so you know your heart disease risk, says Dr. Nakela Cook, medical officer at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Lipoprotein profile: A blood test that measures total cholesterol, HDL or "good" cholesterol, LDL or "bad" cholesterol, and triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood. The test is given after a 9- to 12-hour fast.

Fasting plasma glucose: The preferred test for diagnosing diabetes. After you have fasted overnight, you will get a blood test the next morning to find out if you have diabetes or are likely to develop the disease.

Body mass index and waist circumference: To find out whether your body type raises your risk of heart disease. A BMI of 25 or higher means you are overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher means you are obese. Both overweight and obesity are risk factors for heart disease. For women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches increases the risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions. It's 40 inches for men.


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