As a former emergency medical technician (EMT) who worked on an ambulance in downtown Denver, Colorado I witnessed a number of dramatic medical events. From the sad amusement park ride accident to the 3:30 a.m. call for “belly button lint” (really), I gained a lot of experience. Aside from the aftermath of high-speed car accidents, nothing required more focused and quick attention than MI’s (myocardial infarction or heart attacks). We recognized that the passing minutes meant the heart was slowly losing its ability to pump and we had to act quickly.
Today, as a physician I understand, more than ever, the importance of preventing a heart attack before it ever requires a call to 911 and a trip to the emergency room. Below I outline 5 simple steps you can take to avoid the EMTs from making a stop at your house.
1. Increase Your Exercise
It seems like everyday a new study comes out showing the benefit of exercise and it’s clear that exercise is “good for you.” I typically recommend increasing your activity by at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. This could be a simple 2-mile walk around your neighborhood-what better way to get to know your neighbors? Getting the heart rate up 20-30% higher than its normal resting levels has been shown to decrease poor cardiovascular events by nearly a third. Plus, exercise has a number of invaluable effects on mood, energy levels and of course, weight loss.
2. Remember Your Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Also known as “fish oils” or “essential fatty acids”, omega-3 fats are highly beneficial for heart health. The anti-inflammatory effect of these good fats keeps the heart and other blood vessels fit while improving overall brain and digestive health. Be sure to get “clean” sources of omega-3 fatty acid in your diet, which includes non-farm raised fish (wild caught) and high quality over-the-counter fish oils. Be careful to get mercury-free sources of fish oil. Also when taking a fish oil supplement, be sure you’re getting over 2,000 mg of total omegas a day and put your nose in the bottle and get a good whiff. If the bottle smells like rotten fish, toss the stuff-the oil is oxidized and is not providing the beneficial effects of the omega-3 oils…plus it is probably harmful to your health.
3. Know Your Risk Factors
Yearly medical exams can help assess your cardiovascular risk. A thorough clinical assessment by your doctor, including your family and social history, can evaluate your heart health. I also find it important to monitor your heart health with coronary artery scans using high-tech diagnostic imaging that measures calcium levels in the blood vessels around the heart. Your doctor can order this test to be done at most imaging facilities. We now know that higher levels of calcium in these vessels are more predictive of heart attacks than calcium-free blood vessels. Also, be sure your doctor keeps an eye on your waist line measurement, cholesterol, triglyceride and CRP (C-reactive protein, which is a marker for heart inflammation).
4. Eat Your Greens
The foundation of good heart health should be in your diet. Maintaining a good intake of lean protein, high fiber, vegetables and good fats will keep your heart pitter patting away. Research shows that dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, and mustard greens can be the most cardio-protective, by packing in calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E and K. Be sure to get at least 3-4 servings of these powerful foods a day and avoid those foods high in saturated fats and sugar as well as pastas and other simple carbohydrates.
5. Be Sure to Get Enough Vitamin D
Maintaining higher levels of vitamin D has proven to be quite helpful in keeping the heart happy. You might have heard that you get most of your vitamin D from the sun and you’d be right. But, new studies have shown that even with the recommended 20 minutes of daily sun exposure, most folks are still deficient in vitamin D. Some believe it has to do with our increased awareness of skin cancer and the importance of covering our skin with either clothes or sunscreen. Others believe it’s a deficiency in some of the co-factors that are required to convert sunlight on the skin to its active form deeper within the body.
Whichever is the case, and it’s probably a combination of both, having enough vitamin D is vital for good heart, bone, skin and immune system health. Actually, a recent study demonstrated that healthy levels of vitamin D throughout your life can actually increase your lifespan!
Be sure to get at least 20-30 minutes of direct sun exposure a day or consider 500 – 1,000 IU of oral vitamin D3 supplementation. And be sure to have your vitamin D levels checked-it’s a simple blood test that your doctor can perform. Your heart will thank you for it!
By following these five basic steps, your heart will continue working for you to live a long and happy life!
(c) 2009- Integrative Health Care, PC