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Improve Your Heart Health, Make Self Care a Priority

By Nancy Kennedy

Heart disease continues to be the number one cause of death for Americans, despite remarkable advances in cardiac science that have made new medications, technologies, and minimally invasive procedures available. This prevalence is partly driven by epidemic levels of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, plus tobacco use, which are risk factors for heart disease. Nearly 40% of American adults are obese and at greater risk to develop related conditions such as sleep apnea and high blood pressure – two conditions that, if untreated, can lead to heart disease.

Heart disease is not inevitable, however, and is in fact largely preventable through healthy lifestyle practices, especially exercise. Those practices are only effective when they are part of one’s regular, daily routine, says Michael Brown, M.D., a board-certified interventional cardiologist and a medical director of Greater Pittsburgh Vascular Associates, Washington, PA. “Routines start at an early age, in the teens and early twenties,” he says. “Some people will remain active throughout their lives but if you don’t establish regular activity as part of your life at that age, it’s unlikely that you ever will.”

Brown says that being active on a regular basis is more important than any specific activity or sport. “The fact that you are active, that you get outside and move and get regular cardiovascular exercise, is what matters most. But too many people failed to develop this habit at an early age and have never incorporated exercise into their daily lives.”

To combat this, Brown advises his patients to make self-care a priority and carve out an hour every day to take care of your heart. “We all live by the calendar, by schedules and appointments,” he explains. “We go to work on time and we’re punctual when we have an appointment. But we don’t put ourselves on the calendar. I encourage my patients to make a regular appointment for self-care – you can use it to exercise, plan healthy meals, or go for a walk. This is every bit as important as keeping an appointment with your doctor.”

Brown believes that many people feel reluctant to spend time on themselves. “It’s okay to use time on yourself. Be creative about self-care. It’s an individual thing: make decisions that fit your life. It’s essential that what you choose is something that you can do on a regular basis, so don’t choose things that you are unlikely to sustain. Every January, we’re bombarded with ads for new workout equipment, exercise programs, and gym memberships – but you don’t have to make resolutions and you don’t need fancy machines. Just go for a walk regularly. Walking is one of the best forms of stress relief – it gets you moving, gets you outside, exercises your heart, lungs and legs and provides stress relief. It also helps you manage your weight.”

The COVID 19 pandemic, Brown says, has forced people to make different, and often better, choices. “More people are walking around their neighborhoods. Walking helps make us healthier: we have noted fewer other infectious diseases such as flu and pneumonia, because of masks and social distancing. Social distancing protects you against other communicable diseases. Another effect is that due to the restaurant shutdowns, people are eating out less and cooking at home, and that is healthier. Restaurant food has more calories, fat and salt. More people are trying to eat healthier food. In general, we should be trying to eat lean protein and lots of vegetables. We need to be careful of which carbs we choose. It’s best to avoid packaged food, fast food and restaurant food and to become aware of the high salt content of many foods. You have to learn to read food labels and do this regularly. Food manufacturers and restaurants conceal the salt. It may not taste salty but if you look at the label, you’ll see a very high salt content.”

It’s never too late to establish healthy routines, Brown says. “Dedicate time each week to self-care: exercise, healthy eating and managing stress. Keep in mind that it’s the daily, routine practices that will keep your heart healthy. Make yourself a priority.”

Brown completed a fellowship in Cardiovascular Disease and Interventional Cardiology at Allegheny General Hospital and has been practicing Cardiology in the Pittsburgh, Washington and Wheeling area since completing his fellowship. His areas of expertise include complex coronary interventions, structural heart disease such aortic stenosis, treatment of peripheral vascular disease and venous disease. He is married to Stephanie Brown, M.D., an OB/GYN who practices in Upper St. Clair; they have two children.

GPVA is part of Jefferson Cardiology Association. To contact Jefferson Cardiology Association and Greater Pittsburgh Vascular Associates, call (412) 469-1500 or visit the web sites: www.jeffersoncardiology.com or www.greaterpittsburghvascular.com



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