Feb 21, 2023 Three Ways to Prevent Heart Disease

Dr. Gary Rogal, MDHeart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States and claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined. According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of all Americans have cardiovascular disease, but with a few simple steps individuals have the power to avoid becoming part of that statistic. When people start taking control of their heart health at a young age, the ability to improve long term heart health is possible.

“Many cultures around the world don’t see heart disease at the level we do in the United States,” said Gary J. Rogal, MD, Medical Director for Cardiovascular Services at RWJBarnabas Health. “It comes down to how we live, including our diets, level of exercise, and smoking habits. I tell my patients there’s a lot they can do to help prevent heart disease, but it’s important to start taking care of yourself and your family’s heart health at a young age.”

Dr. Rogal provides three ways to decrease your risk of heart disease:

  1. Start early
    It takes time for risk factors to have a visible impact on heart health so it is important to be mindful and proactive about your heart health at a young age and before you’re considered at risk. It just might save your life. Studies show that dangerous plaque can build up in arteries in your 20s. “Heart disease prevention starts before you’re responsible for your own health care, so it’s up to parents to make sure their kids are getting properly screened and living a heart healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise,” recommends Dr. Rogal.

    Recommended screenings for children include annual blood pressure checks starting at age 3, obesity monitoring starting at age 6, and cholesterol checks for teenagers who have a family history of heart disease.
  2. Get moving and stay active
    Your level of physical activity can have a big impact on your heart health. Living a sedentary lifestyle with low levels of physical activity can greatly increase an individual’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It’s recommended that adults get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which coupled with a heart healthy diet can help decrease your risk. “You don’t have to run a marathon,” says Dr. Rogal. “Even a modest amount of moderate exercise can have a huge benefit.” Beginners can start with low impact activities such as walking, hiking, swimming, cycling or light weightlifting.
  3. Know your personal risk factors and get screened appropriately
    “I tell my patients it’s important they know their numbers,” comments Dr. Rogal. “This includes your blood sugar, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI).” Other factors such as high blood pressure (hypertension), otherwise known as the ‘silent killer’, increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Having high blood pressure damages the heart’s arteries, which in turn decreases the flow of oxygen to the heart resulting in heart disease. Monitoring these risks at home and with your doctor is important to avoid cardiovascular events.

    Many types of cardiovascular disease are hereditary so you should tell your doctor if anyone in your family has heart disease, especially if there is a history of premature coronary disease which means someone was diagnosed under the age of 50 for men or under the age of 60 for women.

    Once your risk factors are determined your doctor will decide what screenings are needed based on your age, gender and risks. “Screening isn’t tied to age as much as it’s tied to personal risk factors,” says Dr. Rogal. “You may need more in-depth screenings if your physician assesses you to be at high risk for cardiac events.”

Dr. Rogal recommends the following heart healthy habits to incorporate into your everyday life to help reduce your risk:

  • Moderate exercise for 150 minutes per week or just over 20 minutes daily
  • Monitoring alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Sticking to a healthy, nutritious diet comprised of lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding processed foods and food high in saturated fat, and sugar
  • Following up with a physician on a regular basis to monitor cholesterol, fats, sugar, and blood pressure
  • Reduce stress through meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. Connect with a top cardiovascular specialist at RWJBarnabas Health by calling 1-888-724-7123 or visit rwjbh.org.