Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, claiming the lives of one in three people. But heart disease is not a given, especially if you start taking steps right now to prevent its damaging effects.
“I believe most heart disease can actually be prevented — not just treated with medication, surgeries and stents — but prevented with a very effective plan: your lifestyle,” says Dr. Vivian Kominos, an integrative cardiologist with the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center. “People’s habits and daily decisions can play a huge role in warding off heart disease.“
Traditional and integrative heart care
Conventional treatments for acute events like heart attacks and strokes are quite good; but, a focus on making real lifestyle changes — before and after an event or diagnosis — is very important. According to Dr. Kominos, there should be an emphasis on, with medical considerations, how lifestyle can help prevent heart disease and future acute events. “That’s where integrative cardiology is stellar, because it looks at the whole person: health, habits, emotions and relationships,” she says. “Everybody can always get healthier. It’s never too late.”
How to assess heart disease risk
Your heart disease risk is assessed by looking at the numbers from a variety of health screenings such as your blood cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose. Age, smoking and family health history are also factored in. “Lifestyle factors like physical activity, emotional stressors, and even vitamin D deficiency should also be taken into consideration by your cardiologist,” Dr. Kominos says.
It isn’t easy to measure, but feeling stressed can be as potent a risk factor as diabetes. Even though there is no specific screening for it, someone who is under stress experiences an increase in inflammatory markers and cholesterol in his or her blood. “A stressed person is four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than someone who isn’t stressed,” Dr. Kominos says. “Stress is a killer.” Read more about how stress affects heart health here.
Stress reduction is important
In busy New York City, stressors are everywhere. To help New Yorkers deal with everyday stress, Dr. Kominos recommends:
- Slow down and breathe. “We’re living in a noisy, fast-paced area. So take a moment every day and go to a quiet place just to breathe deeply, if only for five minutes,” Dr. Kominos says. Yoga is also a great way to release stress. Try these stress-busting yoga moves.
- Commit to regular exercise. The healthiest people get at least two and a half hours of exercise per week. That’s just a half an hour, five days a week, which is manageable for most people. “If you’re too short on time for exercise, walk vigorously from the train station to your work,” Dr. Kominos says. “That could equal 15 minutes, twice a day, and every little bit helps.” Focus not only on cardio workouts, but also building muscle and maintaining balance — all of which are important as people age. Yoga, tai chi and meditation are all great practices for the mind and body, she adds.
- Eat a healthy diet. Not everyone can be on the same diet, nor should they be, but Dr. Kominos recommends eating as many plants as possible, including fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. “Try to eliminate processed foods, and decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet,” she adds.
- Make time for relationships. “The thing that we don’t talk about enough in medicine is love and connectedness,” Dr. Kominos says. Loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and other illnesses. “We need to establish a feeling of relatedness to life, to other human beings and to nature. It’s so important to be involved in something other than ourselves,” she says.
To learn more about integrative approaches to managing heart disease, call 1-855-411-LWNY (5969) or visit the Center for Health and Healing's website.