February 1st, 2020 12:00am
February is heart month and that usually means all sorts of public service announcements from the American Heart Association and other organizations urging us to lower our risk of heart disease. You’ll be urged to lower your cholesterol, make sure your blood pressure is under control, stop smoking, and some other rather predictable suggestions.
As a physician for over thirty years, I have discovered what works and what doesn’t work and how to prioritize. Here are my top five areas on which to focus to achieve lifelong heart health.
If your father, mother, brother, or sister had a heart attack before the age of 60, you should be on the lookout; not live in fear, just be more aware. If these “first-degree” relatives had extremely bad lifestyles, then you may not have to see a cardiologist often if you are in great shape, eat well, and exercise regularly. However, even given this, your genetics may predispose you to develop coronary artery disease, whether your lifestyle is pristine or not. Therefore, you should develop a relationship with a cardiologist while in your forties.
Over the years, many people have told me that they do not want to take medication to lower their cholesterol. Unfortunately, many of those same people are unwilling or unable to sustain long-lasting lifestyle changes that lower it themselves. That is when medication, especially statin therapy is required. The next question is, “will I have to be on this medication for the rest of my life?” My answer is “Yes. If you are unwilling or unable to make the healthy changes in your life to lower your risk of heart disease, then the benefit of the medication is greater than the continued risk in which you place yourself by not changing.” The primary reason why heart disease has dropped substantially in the past 25 years is not that people have been able to live healthier lifestyles. Its because most people are unable to achieve that, and those people would be at higher risk without statins. The statins have taken that high-risk group and lowered the risk of heart disease in it. Unfortunately, due to continued poor lifestyles, the risk of other diseases has increased. So, if you do not want to take cholesterol-lowering medication, then you must change your life.
(Before you do any exercise or take any recommendations check with your doctor first). We have all heard the aerobic exercise is the best for the heart. Well, that may not be the entire story. Hormesis is the process best explained by the phrase, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Exercise, in reality, causes bits of injury and inflammation to our body that prepares us for when we may experience greater stress. What has previously been thought of as “good for us” has been shown maybe not to be the case. For instance, long-distance running used to be the go-to recommendation for cardiologists, and many became marathon runners. Studies have shown that such exercise actually causes inflammation and may increase the risk of other diseases. Most recently, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be the best provider of the “hormetic effect” and overall heart and body strength and health. My exercise of choice is known as CrossFit; although, there are others and you should do your research with the help of your doctor to find the ones that are best for you.
(Before you undertake any dietary changes check with your doctor first). The truth is the Government recommendations released in 1980, promoted low-fat diets that have catapulted us into the worst epidemic of obesity and diabetes in history. There are many theories as to why this happened, but this blog is not the place to discuss those. To be sure, you have been told by various authorities what constitutes the best diet. Is it the Keto diet? Paleo? Atkins? Vegan? South Beach? Plant Paradox? Weight Watchers? Mediterranean? Intermittent Fasting? The “low-fat” phenomenon has led to obesity since such diets created highly processed foods laden with sugar and “simple” carbohydrates that quickly convert to sugar. The only diet that has consistently been shown to lower heart disease risk is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is high in “good” fats, “good” carbs, and “good” proteins. It is a balanced diet. Intermittent fasting is a technique that I have practiced for many years and is not coming into favor since studies have shown that it aids in overall metabolism. An easy way to master this is to adapt to not eating after 9 pm and before noon the next day. Since the body spikes cortisol roughly at 4 am each day, our sugar will normally rise in the morning to maintain us until noon. The amount of calories in and the amount of calories out (expended through exercise, etc.…) does mean something and make sure not to underestimate your calculation as being overweight, no matter how well you think you eat, will cause fat to deposit around the heart.
All of us pretty much know that stress is not good for our health and especially not good for our heart health. The reason for this is that stress is actually the term used when our fight-or-flight system is activated, which causes the release of epinephrine/norepinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. This stresses our body in harmful ways. This system only activates when our brain tells us we’re in danger, threatened, or vulnerable. In my book Brain Drain and my eBook Fake News Stories by Your Brain, I go into this in greater detail. It turns out, we can use our mind to train our brain not to react in this fashion. What this helps us to create is a way to look at life in a more promising, and hence, a more positive way with a better attitude. Understanding how this system works is vital, but other methods can lock it in. Stay tuned for more information on my new company, Victor Inc, that will provide ways to unlock your mind’s ability to foster a positive attitude.
When you focus on these five areas in order to take care of your physical heart, it will help you to unleash a wave of change that will contribute to your overall life success and happiness.
© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD™