"Stick with unsaturated fats, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins," says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Jerry Estep.
Dr. Jerry Estep, cardiology department chair, Cleveland Clinic Florida
Economic Backbone: Cardiac Care
Do's and Don'ts
A Cleveland Clinic cardiologist offers tips for preventing heart problems.
Health care does amazing things nowadays in treating heart ailments. But, says Jerry Estep, chair of the cardiology department at Cleveland Clinic Florida, the best approach is to avoid problems in the first place. “It all starts with prevention,” he says.
He offers these tips:
- Quit Smoking: When it comes to risk factors, “smoking is right up there at the top.” Indeed, in Estep's list of preventive measures, he names quitting smoking first.
- Control Diabetes: “It is one of the strongest risk factors for heart vascular problems. If you have diabetes, the more controlled, the better.”
- High Blood Pressure: It’s a risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke and heart failure. “Unfortunately, high blood pressure most times isn’t felt by the patient. You should have your blood pressure checked — checking it twice when you’re resting.” The goal is to keep the top number under 130 and the bottom number under 80.
- Cholesterol: Know your cholesterol level and treat high LDL, or bad cholesterol, and high cholesterol in general.
- Overweight or Obesity: “That is unfortunately very, very prevalent. And, unfortunately, it is a risk factor for coronary disease and heart failure. I think at times as a community, we’ve become lax on the obesity problem.”
- Diet and Nutrition: “A heart-healthy diet we certainly know can help prevent heart disease. Disease can be influenced by environmental factors plus genetics.” Estep recommends keeping it simple: Avoid fried foods, saturated fats such as those found in dairy products and certain oils, and excessive red meat consumption. Stick with unsaturated fats, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins.
- Exercise: “We have here at the Cleveland Clinic really a robust database on exercise and exercise duration.” The takeaway from the data: Pursue a non-sedentary lifestyle. If you can do more in terms of aerobics, treadmills, cycling and other active sports, do so. But “even just walking 30 minutes several times per week is going to translate into preventing heart disease. It’s going to help whether you’re obese, overweight or not.”
- Booze: Binge drinking — defined as four or more drinks for women or five or more for men — should be avoided. “Alcohol consumption, in contrast to smoking, is still rampant — really independent of age and gender. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure. It can provoke abnormal heart rhythms. It can be toxic to the heart.” Red wine has some favorable effects.
- Stress: Estep acknowledges that controlling stress can be hard. But it’s still important to be sensitive to one’s emotional environment and find ways to reduce stress.