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Heart & Vascular

Seven ways to love your heart

Your heart is precious. Protect it. It seems simple enough, but heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

A protector of hearts himself, Roberto Scaffidi, MD, with Bayhealth Cardiology Consultants, Dover, offers these simple tips for loving your heart and keeping your heart healthy.

Tip 1: Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet

When you make seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and fish, lean meats, and poultry mealtime staples, your heart will be healthier for it. Use healthy oils like olive and canola oil for cooking and on salad, instead of using butter and salt. Avoiding excessive sweets as well as fatty and fried foods is a must.

“My family and I get fresh vegetables from local farmers’ markets,” said Dr. Scaffidi. “It makes eating vegetables fun for the whole family.” They also eat plenty of salad topped with tomatoes, onion, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar and canola oil.

Dr. Scaffidi encourages you to read labels at the grocery store. “Look for ground beef that is 96 percent fat-free, lean chicken, and fish,” he said. Although pricier, the extra money spent is worth your heart health. You should limit how much red meat you consume no matter how low in fat.

Tip 2: Be active

Being active is essential to preventing heart disease. The AHA suggests that you participate in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

“Walking is ideal for those who haven’t exercised in a while,” said Dr. Scaffidi. “Start slowly and work up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily. It’s easier to exercise when you have support.” Dr. Scaffidi and his family run local 5K races together.

Tip 3: Quit smoking

Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries — which can lead to coronary heart disease and stroke according to AHA. Everyone seems to know the risks, but quitting isn’t easy.

Bayhealth has a Freedom from Smoking® program that offers support and guidance to help you quit using all tobacco products. This seven-week program is free and offers strategies to improve your lifestyle through behavior modification, diet, stress reduction, and physical activity. “Take advantage of Bayhealth’s programs,” said Dr. Scaffidi. “Get the support you need. That’s what we’re here for.”

Tip 4: Have your blood pressure checked regularly

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is sometimes called “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms, but it can damage your arteries, heart, and other organs. When you have blood pressure that is higher than 140/90 mm, you may find yourself under the care of a cardiologist.

“Get your blood pressure checked often,” said Dr. Scaffidi. “Know your numbers and work with your primary care physician to make improvements.” Although you can’t change risk factors like family history and gender, there are many steps you can take to improve your numbers.

Bayhealth offers blood pressure screenings across Kent and Sussex counties.

Tip 5: Monitor your cholesterol

“When your cholesterol rises, your risk of coronary heart disease does as well,” said Dr. Scaffidi. When you have too much LDL or “bad” cholesterol circulating in your blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain, according to the AHA. It can eventually form a plaque that narrows the arteries.

“Eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising, and avoiding tobacco smoke can all help lower bad cholesterol,” he said. “Eat a diet that is filled with vegetables, whole grains, fruits, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, and nuts. I like to snack on foods high in Omega-3 like edamame beans.”

Tip 6: Maintain a healthy weight

Your body mass index or BMI tells you if you’re at a healthy weight. If your BMI is higher than 25 (normal weight), you’re considered overweight or obese. “Excess weight puts additional work on the heart,” said Dr. Scaffidi. It also raises blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Start by modifying your diet. You can begin by eliminating sugary drinks and sodas or chips and incorporating 30 minutes of exercise per day,” he said. “Losing weight doesn’t have to be complicated. Start small and work your way up to big changes that will have a lasting impact on your heart health.”

Tip 7: Know your numbers

“When you’re armed with the right knowledge about your health, you’re better able to make improvements that will help your heart in the long run,” according to Dr. Scaffidi. Know your family history. Understand your risks. “Consider your primary care physician your teammate — both of you driving toward a healthier you.”

To begin working on your heart health, to find a clinician by visiting Bayhealth.org/Find-A-Doctor.

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