Three Things Your Cardiologist Wants You to Know
Lifestyle choices that support heart health
Lifestyle factors affect cardiovascular health significantly. A healthy
diet and regular exercise have been proven to prevent or control high
cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity—all factors
that contribute directly to cardiovascular disease.
Victoria Shin, MD, a Torrance Memorial Physician Network cardiologist,
says 80% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented—with lifestyle
modification and/or medications. The other 20% is genetic. Despite those
numbers, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in America
for both men and women.
“There are things we can control and things we cannot control, and
in order to prevent cardiovascular disease, we aim to control the factors
we can to the best of our ability,” she says.
Dr. Shin says some patients are reluctant to take medications for cardiovascular
disease because they want to manage their condition with modifications
to lifestyle. “I always give people an opportunity to adjust their
lifestyle—to address diet and exercise—to control their high
cholesterol or blood pressure or borderline diabetes. For some people,
lifestyle modifications can only do so much. Either genetics affect the
risk factors or the patient cannot stay compliant to achieve the goals
necessary to reduce risk. In this case, modern medicine steps in.”
While most people know diet and exercise affect cardiovascular health,
there are other lifestyle factors that can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
1. Stay Hydrated
Hydration helps maintain blood pressure and kidney function. Older individuals
sometimes have a suppressed thirst drive, Dr. Shin says, so maintaining
hydration takes more effort. Exercise, hot weather and medications all
“We need to make a conscious effort to drink more water. Water—not
soft drinks or sugary juices. Dehydration just makes you feel bad—you
feel sluggish, dizzy and lack energy. Our bodies are usually pretty good
about telling us we need to be more hydrated by triggering the thirst
response,” she says.
2. Be Social
“Studies have shown older adults who have a robust social network
are healthier in terms of cardiovascular health, as well as reducing incidence
of dementia,” Dr. Shin says. Friendships lower stress hormones that
increase blood pressure and heart rate, and friends often support a healthy
lifestyle by reinforcing good habits or encouraging each other to seek
medical attention when it’s needed. Dr. Shin says exercising with
a friend is a great way to accomplish two important activities at once.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels, which raises blood pressure and
heart rate and possibly adds to vascular resistance—all negative
factors for the cardiovascular system. Sleep apnea increases the risk
of high blood pressure and arrhythmias, so those who snore loudly and
stop breathing when they snore—or have excessive daytime sleepiness—should
be screened for sleep apnea. For good regular sleep habits, Dr. Shin recommends
a set bedtime, no caffeine after 3 p.m., no alcohol before bedtime and
no technology right before bed.
A healthy lifestyle and medication, when prescribed, are essential to good
cardiovascular health. Avoiding smoking and using illegal drugs are two
other important choices. Dr. Shin says a proactive approach also includes
knowing your risk factors and following your doctor’s recommendations.
“Know your numbers. It is important to get evaluated by your primary
care doctor to check baseline blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, sugar
levels, etc. Based on that, your doctor can tell you if your numbers are
off and what we need to do to get you to your healthiest goal,”
she says. “We don’t prescribe medications just for the heck
of it. We do it to prevent or treat problems. There is a definite role
for medications, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of what modern
medicine and science has to offer.”
Victoria Shin, MD, is a cardiologist with the Torrance Memorial Physician
Network. She practices at 2841 Lomita Blvd., Ste. 235 in Torrance. She
can reached at 310-517-8950.