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Prevent heart disease from striking back


HikercoupleEven one heart attack is one too many. If you or a loved one has vowed that there will be no repeat performances of life-threatening heart events, what can you do to help make that promise a reality?

There’s no magic bullet to prevent recurrent heart attacks or strokes, say experts. But there are ways to help improve your heart function and make it less likely that problems will develop again.

Surgery and other forms of treatment such as medications are used to deal with the immediate heart issue.

“But for the long term, patients more than likely need to make some life-changing decisions to ensure that they are on the right track of heart health,” says Dr. Daryn McClure at the Banner Health Center in Queen Creek, Ariz.

Participate in rehab

A 2011 study by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada analyzed 47 cardiac rehabilitation studies with 10,794 patients who had heart events or heart disease. Compared with those getting traditional care, the patients who received exercise-based heart rehabilitation had a 13 percent reduction in mortality, a 26 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality and a 31 percent reduction in hospital admissions.

Heart rehabilitation programs typically include a combination of exercise, weight loss, nutrition, quit smoking and stress management.

If you lose weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and regulate blood glucose by taking the right steps, you are on the right path to steering away from heart disease,” says Dr. McClure.

Get exercise

Being active - under your physician’s guidance - can increase weight loss, improve lipid profiles, reduce blood pressure and help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

“Even a little aerobic activity, be it walking or cycling, goes a long way,” says Dr. McClure. Nothing that would put too much strain on the heart, so no heavy lifting or running, for example.

Doctors also recommend adding more physical activity in the day-to-day life, besides a 30-minute scheduled exercise at least five days a week.

“Think about all the activities you may be getting someone else to do now and see which ones you can handle on your own,” says Dr. McClure. “Gardening or watering the plants, dusting around the house, or doing the dishes by hand can all be little steps that help you heart.” 

Eat a heart-healthy diet

While most heart-healthy diets focus on cholesterol, each patient’s needs are different.

The Mediterranean diet, high in grains and veggies and low in unhealthy fat is a great choice, say experts.

A low-salt diet is also essential to prevent high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

“You don’t need more than six grams of sodium a day, but with all the packaged and processed foods we eat these days, that limit is usually exceeded,” says Dr. McClure.

It’s also good to avoid saturated and trans fats as much as possible.

“Again, much like high sodium levels, processed foods can be loaded with these, so I always advise patients to read nutrition labels,” says Dr. McClure. “Eat fresh foods as much as possible.” 

Manage stress

There is a link between psychological stress and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Stress directly damages the coronary arteries and indirectly affects heart function through traditional stress-related risk factors such as smoking, hypertension and cholesterol metabolism.

An overall preventive strategy that includes reducing stressful environments, removing stressors, changing the perception of stressors or eliminating the psychological reaction to the stressor is best. Stress management techniques typically include relaxing muscles, breathing deeply, resting in a quiet environment and learning coping skills. Talk to your doctor to find the right solution for your lifestyle.

“In the always-connected world that we live in nowadays, it’s good to just cut everything out and take time out for yourself,” suggests Dr. McClure.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Daryn McClure at the Banner Health Center in Queen Creek, Ariz., please call (480) 512-3700 or find a Banner physician near you.

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