Dr. Noel Bairey Merz

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July 19, 2012
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MERZ: Nine tips for your heart health

The bad news: Although Colorado is the nation's healthiest state, that does not mean we are immune from the nation's No. 1 killer - heart disease.

In fact, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, heart disease is Colorado's leading cause of death.

But here is the good news: You can do something about it. By taking preventive measures and putting your heart health first, you can significantly reduce the likelihood that you will develop cardiovascular issues as you age.

Here are tips for keeping your heart in peak condition.

1. Don't put it off any longer. It's time to do everything you know you should be doing: exercising, eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet, losing weight and quitting smoking. Thousands of studies have told you this. Now, just do it.

2. Don't fool yourself. Don't think that just because you eat healthfully, it's OK to smoke a little. Studies have shown that when it comes to lifestyle changes, you have to do it all or you don't reap the benefit of any of it.

3. Time yourself. For heart health, you need to do 30 minutes of physical activity a day (to lose weight, you'll need to work out up to 60 minutes a day). Your activity could be as low-tech as walking to do your errands or as regimented as a daily exercise class. But remember, fewer than 20 percent of adults achieve 30 minutes of sustained activity every day, so watch the clock.

4. Focus on fitness level, not whether you are "fat." If you're fit, being a few pounds overweight is more likely due to increased muscle and doesn't matter as much. Once you start exercising and becoming more fit, it becomes easier to make healthy food choices.

5. Know the symptoms. Many of us think we know what a heart attack looks like: The man who first senses a tingling sensation in his arm before gripping his chest and falling to the floor. The only problem is, it's different for women, who more typically experience extreme fatigue, nausea and a feeling of tightness around their chest.

6. Keep aspirin handy. First, check with your health care provider to ensure that aspirin is safe for you. If you notice symptoms of a heart attack, consider popping an aspirin in your mouth immediately. Then get yourself to the hospital. When you arrive at the hospital, make sure the admitting nurse or doctor knows that you think you're having a heart attack.

7. Know your numbers. What's your blood pressure? What's your cholesterol? Fasting blood sugar? Numbers can tell a lot. See your doctor and keep track of your numbers. Optimal numbers are a total cholesterol lower than 180 mg/dl (milligrams per decileter), an HDL cholesterol greater than 50 for women and greater than 40 for men, blood pressure lower than 130/80 and a fasting blood sugar not higher than 100 mg/dl.

8. When in doubt, call your doctor. If you notice symptoms that could indicate heart disease, such as high blood pressure that doesn't respond to medication, or water retention in your legs, don't wait - get to your doctor's office stat.

9. See your dentist, too. Infection in the teeth, gums and mouth can contribute to and trigger heart disease.

Dr. Noel Bairey Merz is the director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Merz will be speaking at the two-day Living At Your Peak symposium Sept. 13-15 in Vail. She will present a session focused on helping both men and women prevent and reverse heart disease using tools found in the home and office. To register or learn more about other interactive opportunities, visit www.livingatyourpeak.org.

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The Post Independent Updated Jul 19, 2012 06:19PM Published Jul 19, 2012 06:18PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.