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Your health doesn't take a holiday - heart maintenance

December 13, 2016

You’re health doesn’t take a holiday.

Especially your heart.

“Heart health in December is just as important, if not more important, as it is in January,” said Dr. Quinn Pack, a preventive cardiologist in the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.

“Although many people enjoy the holidays, it turns out that Christmas and New Years have the highest death rate from heart disease of any day of the year. While no one knows the exact reason, overindulgence, stress, and delay in seeking medical care are among the leading suspected reasons for the increase in death rates on these two days,” he added.

The leading cause of death

According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

“Fortunately, the good news is that even small improvements in your lifestyle can make a big difference to your heart health. These changes will also help you feel much better and reduce your risk for non-heart related diseases,” said Dr. Pack.

The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary artery disease.

“But, there is still more good news. Some 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. You can prevent or delay heart disease by beginning today to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle in the New Year and modifying your risk factors,” said Dr. Pack.

Controlling risk factors

While there are some risk factors that you can’t change, such as your family history, your sex and age, there are still many important risk factors that you can control, including:

►Smoking

►High blood pressure

►High blood cholesterol

►Being overweight

►Physical inactivity

►Diabetes.

Dr. Pack said charting a course in the New Year for good heart health begins with a visit to your primary care physician, who can assess your individual risk factors, then tailor a strategy for you to follow.

For smokers, Dr. Pack said he is “a big fan of addressing this bad habit first.”

“Smoking cessation may be hard, but is a more satisfying risk factor to treat because once you stop, unless you relapse, then that’s it - you’re done. That’s different than diet and physical activity which require effort every day of your life,” he said.

Also, within one month of quitting smoking, your risk for heart disease drops substantially, he noted.

Hypertension a major risk factor

Hypertension or high blood pressure is most often associated with the risk of stroke, it is also a major risk factor for heart disease and heart failure.

“We now have medications that are effective and have minimal side effects. So, there is no reason other than patient disengagement to not having your blood pressure or cholesterol under control,” said Dr. Pack, who noted patients should talk with their primary care doctor to learn if they fall under guidelines for cholesterol lowering statins and hypertensive medications.

When it comes to physical activity, Dr. Pack calls exercise “the polypill of preventive cardiology.”

“If you exercise every day for at least 30 minutes, just like taking a medication every day, you will have substantial benefits. And, it’s not just beneficial to lowering your risk of heart disease and lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol. Exercise also has an overall positive effect on your quality of life from improving your mood, sleep, digestion, sexual health, and preventing diabetes and osteoporosis,” he said.

Bad polypills

Dr. Pack considers obesity and being overweight as “bad polypills.”

“Weight is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It is also responsible for chronic obstructive sleep apnea, lower back pain, joint pain, and some depression, a decrease in energy and some cancers,” said Dr. Pack.

“Diabetes is completely linked at the hip with obesity. Fortunately, if you can lose even a little weight, it can have quite a positive effect on diabetes and prevent complications of diabetes such as blindness, kidney failure and neuropathy. It’s number three on my list of risk factors. It can be easily diagnosed and there are good medications available to control your blood sugars,” he added.

To learn more about Baystate Medical Center’s life-saving cardiac capabilities, visit baystatehealth.org/bhvp, or to make an appointment, call 413-794-2273.