Heart Health Q&A with a Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Dr. Stephen L. Noble, Lead Medical Advisor for Live Chair Health, recently held a question and answer session related to heart health. He has provided information below on how to best care for your heart, the pump of the body.

What is heart health?

Heart health simply refers to the condition of the heart, or how well the heart functions. 


What are the signs of an unhealthy heart?

There can be several signs of an unhealthy heart. Some of the most obvious signs are those signs that may be a signal of a heart attack. Some of those signs are chest pain, pain in the arms radiating up the neck or down the shoulder and arm. Other signs of poor heart health include fatigue, shortness of breath when walking or doing activities that you used to be able to do without difficulty. Palpitations, or the feeling that the heart is beating not normally can also be a sign of an unhealthy heart. A person with an unhealthy heart may have high blood pressure or low blood pressure. They may have a fast or slow heart rate. 


What causes heart problems?

Heart problems are usually due to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries due to build up of plaque in the arteries, a type of blood vessel, in the body and the heart. Other kinds of heart problems may be due to the electrical activity of the heart or the conduction system. This can lead to people having abnormally slow heart rates, called bradycardia. People can also have abnormally fast heart rates which is called tachycardia. Some patients can have a heart beat that instead of having a regular rhythm like the consistent beat of a drum it beats irregularly. Types of irregular heart rhythms are atrial fibrillation and atrial fluter. 

What are common types of heart problems?

The most common type of heart problem is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. It is estimated that atherosclerosis is the leading cause of death worldwide. Some estimates report that about 18 million Americans over the age of 20 have some from of heart disease. People can also have problems with some of the structures in their heart. Aortic stenosis, is a condition in which a structure called the aortic valve becomes hardened and stiff. The aortic valve helps with moving blood out of the heart and into the rest of the body. 


How can you maintain heart health in your daily routine?

A daily routine for maintaining heart health is related to nutrition, exercise, abstaining from smoking and proper sleep. Eating a heart healthy diet, one that is a colorful mix of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts and grains is important. Think of the heart as a machine pumping blood through the body. For the machine to be of optimal function it needs the right fuel or energy to do its work. Daily exercise for at least 30 minutes helps achieve and maintain optimal heart function. For those that have a history of heart problems, they should consult their physician prior to beginning an exercise program. Those that smoke should quit smoking and those that do not smoke should not start. Smoking has a negative impact on heart health. 


What are the risk factors involved with an unhealthy heart?

There are several risk factors involved with an unhealthy heart. A history of smoking and a family history of heart disease are two of the most significant risk factors for heart disease. Other risk factors are not being physically active or a sedentary lifestyle and eating a high fat diet. Having other medical conditions like diabetes can also be a risk factor for having heart disease. 


How can you check your heart health?

Checking your heart health starts with knowing some key information. The first bit of information is “knowing your numbers” in particular your blood pressure and your heart rate. Hypertension, or high blood pressure can be a sign of heart disease and an unhealthy heart. Therefore, It is important that an individual knows what his or her blood pressure normally is such that if it is elevated, the appropriate treatment and management can be initiated.


What exercises help maintain heart health?

Routine cardiovascular exercises such as walking, jogging, running, swimming, etc. Anything that can gently and easily get your heart rate up and keep it there for about 30-45 minutes.


What type of food is good for heart health?

Heart healthy nutrients include fish, lean meats, nuts, grains, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and others.


Are there any self care tips for good heart health?

Here are four tips for good heart health. First, is nutrition. As the heart is the body’s own machine-like pump for it to function optimally it needs the right kind of fuel and energy. Therefore, eating a heart healthy diet to provide the best fuel for heart performance is key. Another tip is regular exercise. Performing 30 minutes of continuous exercise that increases one’s heart rate at least three times a week is good. However it is recommended that doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise is best coupled with three days of performing aerobic activity. The third tip is to refrain from smoking. Smoking has significant negative effects on the heart and any person that smokes should decrease his or her use and have an aim to quit. The final self care tip for good heart health is rest. The heart is constantly working, pumping blood through the body. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for heart disease. It is recommended that adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. 

Conclusion

Heart health refers to the overall condition of the body’s machine-like pump. Having a healthy heart is crucial to living a healthy and productive life. For optimal heart health it is important to be aware of the signs of an unhealthy heart, eat a heart healthy diet, perform routine exercises that benefit the heart and get proper rest. 


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