Making heart-healthy changes

Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your heart health.

“Many of us get lazy in the winter, spend more time indoors, and pay less attention to staying fit and healthy,” said Dr. Jacob Shani, Chair of the Cardiac Institute at Maimonides Medical Center. “But it actually takes very little effort to improve your overall heart-health at any time of the year.”

Shani recommends that everyone be aware of their family health history and the risk factors for heart disease. Getting an annual check-up is the best first step toward establishing good habits that will help prevent or delay the onset of cardiovascular disease.

Though we can’t change the various traits we inherit, there are many risk factors for heart disease that can be improved by making better lifestyle choices, according to Shani. He urges patients to select healthier foods and become more physically active. These changes need not be drastic – every small dietary change has a positive impact, and short walks can improve anyone’s fitness level.

Risk factors for heart disease include: High blood pressure or hypertension; high LDL cholesterol; high blood sugar or diabetes; being overweight or obese; being inactive; smoking; and heavy alcohol consumption.

Shani advises everyone to ask their doctors for advice on controlling the first three risk factors, and points out that for those who are unsuccessful with dietary changes alone, certain medications can be prescribed that help people achieve healthy “numbers” for blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol.

The rest are lifestyle issues. Moderation is advised in alcohol consumption and eating rich foods, and exercise is recommended for everyone – not just those with a weight problem. Smoking is unhealthy at any level and should be completely avoided. If you are unable to achieve your goals, your doctor can help with these lifestyle changes, too.

“No one should feel they are alone in their struggle to achieve wellness,” Shani says. “Even physicians need help getting and staying in shape. So, ask friends and family for support – and ask your doctor for help on the road to better heart-health.”

Maimonides recently was designated a Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence by HealthGrades, along with NY Presbyterian’s Weill Cornell Hospital and NYU.

And the federal government published ratings that show Maimonides is one of only 20 hospitals in the nation to achieve excellent patient outcomes in the three areas they measure: heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia. In fact, the Maimonides Cardiac Institute ranks eighth in the nation for treating heart attacks and ninth in treating heart failure.

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