HealthThe Examiner

Common-Sense Steps to Follow to Stave Off Onset of Heart Disease

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Dr. Carl Reimers, director of the Cardiac Cath Lab at Northern Westchester Hospital.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States, like many Western countries today. It’s a point that’s driven home every year, it seems, in February, which has been established as American Hearth Month.

But that doesn’t mean anyone should feel that they are helpless in guarding against having their lives cut short, even if heart disease runs in their family.

Generally accepted healthy living practices – regular exercise, proper eating habits and avoiding smoking – can give millions of Americans a leg up in preventing, or at least delaying, the onset of coronary artery disease or blockages, said Dr. Carl Reimers, an interventional cardiologist and director of Northwell Health’s Cardiac Cath Lab at Northern Westchester Hospital.

“There are very simple ways to try and prevent that,” Reimers said of premature heart disease. “Unfortunately, there is a genetic component. Heart disease does tend to run in families. That is extraordinarily prevalent. But that being said, there are plenty of things that are simple to do that can really prevent heart disease or at least buy you time before it really develops.”

Reimers said it starts with a person’s diet. Following a “heart healthy” diet by minimizing one’s intake of sodium and cholesterol is key. A heart healthy diet, which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains, also has other benefits, such as lowering the risk of colon cancer, he said.

People don’t need to be a vegetarian, refraining from meat intake entirely or never allowing themselves a treat in order to eat properly – and healthfully.

“The real key to me is moderation,” Reimers said. “That occasional piece of red meat or the occasional egg is not going to kill you. It’s like if you’re having steak and eggs for every morning, that sort of thing (isn’t good), so for me, what I recommend is moderation.”

Knowing what your cholesterol level is along with keeping blood pressure under control are additional straightforward steps that can improve health. Maintaining proper weight also helps.

Modest levels of regular exercise can make a positive difference in one’s health, Reimers said. You don’t need to be training to run a marathon to improve fitness or your health outcomes, he said.

Guarding against laziness by using the all-too-common excuse that you’re too busy to exercise, is an oft-repeated trap that many people fall into. If you’re disciplined enough to deem yourself too busy because of your job, for example, then you have the discipline to get some exercise a few times a week, according to Reimers.

“If you can get about 20 minutes of some aerobic exercise in three times a week you’re making a difference, and I do include walking in that, by the way,” Reimers said. “I think the younger you are the more active you should be. If I have a 30-year-old, I’ll say walking’s great but why don’t you think about jogging. If you’re 75 or 80 years old, and you’re limited orthopedically, walking is still very good exercise. It’s a matter of finding the time to do that.”

For those who have had the onset of heart disease or elevated cholesterol levels, Reimers recommends listening to your doctor. Taking a common medication such as the statin-like Lipitor, often helps, he said.

“The statin not only keeps the cholesterol low and helps prevent plaque buildup, but it also acts like an anti-inflammatory and it helps to stabilize the actual coronary disease,” Reimers said. “Inflammation is a big part of patients who present with heart attacks.”

Steering clear of misinformation also leads to better health. There is a fair share of bad information about how statins may cause a variety of health issues, including premature Alzheimer’s, a particularly erroneous claim. The claims are buttressed by how the statins can bring on some side effects such as muscle aches.

Reimers said doctors would not be prescribing a drug that harms patients.

“Statins have saved more lives than coronary bypass surgery and coronary angioplasty and stents,” Reimers said.




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