Have a healthy-heart lifestyle – Local.News

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Christopher Vaccari, M.D., an experienced cardiologist, says he regularly encounters three main issues with his patients’ heart health: coronary artery disease, irregular heart rhythms and congestive heart failure.

And all can be improved with lifestyle choices. The cardiologist has some tips to help.

“The keys are three-fold,” he said. “Diet, exercise and avoiding behaviors we know are bad for the heart.”

What should you avoid for a heart-healthy diet?

Eating healthy includes limiting sugar, salt and high-calorie foods. To get a handle on these, Dr. Vaccari suggests checking the labels on foods. There are also apps that help track the numbers.

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to sugar is drinks. With salt, it’s not so much what you add at the table, but the sodium you get in eating processed food — deli meat, breads, fast food, among others.

Sugary drinks and processed food also tend to be high in calories and don’t offer much in return.

Related to this the actual amount of food you consume.

“You do all this work to lose weight, but then you overestimate portion sizes,” he said. “That’s why we sometimes feel we’re not losing weight.”

What exercise regimen is good for heart health?

When it comes to exercise, Dr. Vaccari said he’s seen dramatic improvements when people go from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one.

“You need to do it easy,” he said, noting you can start with walking 30 minutes a day and working up to more aerobic activity over time.

Those above a certain age should talk to their doctor before starting an exercise regimen, since there’s more concern with bone and joint health, he said.

What are some ways to eliminate unhealthy behaviors?

Unhealthy behaviors to eliminate include smoking and drinking alcohol.

Dr. Vaccari said he knows it can be difficult to get certain behaviors under control.

“Sometimes it’s useful to have an idea of your numbers,” he said, referring to things such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar. “That can give you the motivation to break certain habits.”

Dr. Vaccari suggests talking to your healthcare provider if your blood pressure in the morning is persistently over 140/90; if, generally, your LDL cholesterol is more than 130; and if your fasting blood sugar is over 126.

Sometimes, seeing a family member or friend going through the effects of heart disease is a motivator. Sometimes simply celebrating a birthday can do it.

“Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s after they have their own first heart event that it’s a wakeup call,” he said.

To get help with keeping your heart healthy, visit Meritus Hagerstown Heart online at meritushealth.com/locations/meritus-hagerstown-heart or call 301-797-2525. And if you live near Hancock, Dr. Vaccari will start seeing patients weekly beginning in March at the recently opened Meritus Primary Care office, 351 N. Pennsylvania Ave.

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