While many people may not think about their heart health on a daily basis, there are steps that can be taken every day to improve it. As February is American Heart Month, Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Keith Atassi from Community Healthcare System would like to share tips on how to care for the organ that keeps your blood pumping and your body moving.
Watching what you eat can certainly improve your heart health, but that does not require a fad diet. Atassi believes it is best to instead establish a balanced diet that can be sustained long-term. This involves eating food from a variety of food groups and limiting unhealthy food and fast food.
He said while it is fine to dine out on occasion, it is important to use common sense when it comes to what you put on your plate. You can also choose to make food at home that you would normally eat at a restaurant so that you can prepare the same dish with a greater focus on health, such as cutting some of the fat off a burger to make it leaner.
Hearts also benefit from regular exercise which can be accomplished through a variety of physical activities. Atassi shared that people should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week. This includes anything that gets your body moving such as walking, swimming, jogging or biking.
“You need to exercise to maintain a fast heartbeat for approximately 30 minutes to get the full benefit,” Atassi said. “Exercise has to be the number one meal of the day. You are going to have to make that commitment first and then think about the other parts of daily life for improvement. If you want to do everything in moderation, walking two to three miles at the speed of 15 minutes a mile every day is perfect.”
While exercise is important to keep your heart in good shape, relaxation is also key. Atassi explained that developing good sleeping habits are important to so many areas of health, but it is often overlooked. He recommends getting at least six hours of sleep every night, but eight is ideal. The amount of sleep is not all that matters; quality of sleep also is an important aspect of restfulness.
Consuming stimulants before bed can lead to anxiety and restlessness when trying to sleep. Atassi recommends that people consume stimulants earlier in the day and give the body a break from stimulants for two to three hours before bedtime.
“Go to bed early and avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and smoking,” Atassi said. “If you like to go to bed at 9 p.m., I would say to eliminate all of those stimulants by 5 or 6 p.m. We try to squeeze in so many things at the end of the day and it’s taking away from our relaxation and sleeping time.”
Another often-overlooked component of heart health is something that Atassi has seen skyrocket since March of 2020: stress. With the COVID-19 pandemic, political outcry and struggling economy taking precedence in the last year, people have experienced huge increases in stress and anxiety. While many people try their best to shove these feelings aside, they are causing significant health issues.
“We’re seeing people have stress-induced complications including heart attacks and strokes,” Atassi said. “Those are not the variety of strokes we see in patients with carotid buildup or high blood pressure. This is all purely induced by stress. People really need to concentrate on finding a way to relax. They can seek professional help, do yoga, socialize, exercise and use whatever mode of treatment helps them relax and take life easy. We are being so stretched out and stressed. I think that is something that is being overlooked big time. It is becoming a major risk factor.”
Atassi encourages his patients to go for a walk or find another activity that helps them unwind, not just for the sake of their minds, but also their bodies.
He also shared advice on when people should seek medical help.
“Anytime they feel they are experiencing chest pain, breathing difficulties, fatigue or stress; they should not postpone care,” Atassi said. “The earlier you take care of your needs and issues in life, the easier it is for you as the patient and your physician to take care of it.”
Bottom line, Atassi said that any time you think you should see a doctor; make an appointment. You can start with your family doctor or nurse practitioner first to get their advice. It is also important to identify family health factors and be proactive in getting any high risk concerns checked out.
For more information about cardiovascular care at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System including Community Hospital, Munster, St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago, St. Mary Medical Center, Hobart, and specialty hospital Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center, Crown Point, visit https://www.COMHS.org/heart.