Dr. Doug Borg is a cardiologist at CHI St. Vincent Heart Clinic Arkansas.
Heart disease is the biggest killer in the U.S. Why is it so prevalent and are there ways to prevent it?
I think we only know a portion of the answer to this important question. Clearly genetic makeup plays a role. In clinical practice, we don’t yet have ways to test genetic risk. However, many risk factors increase the likelihood of coronary atherosclerosis and heart attack. These risks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, smoking and obesity.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of these risks is exponentially increasing in our country, which in turn is leading to more heart disease, particularly for people in their 30s and 40s. Prevention is certainly achievable, but there are barriers. It surprises many, but blood pressure, high cholesterol and even early diabetes do not necessarily cause noticeable symptoms. Workplace health fairs or routine doctor’s visits are the best ways to identify these developing problems.
Improving your diet by avoiding foods high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates is ideal, but often just improving your diet without drastic changes is very helpful. Even mild exercise such as walking 30-plus minutes per day speeds metabolism and improves strength.
What are your top tips for a healthy heart lifelong?
Some of the most obvious well-known tips are often the easiest to change but the most difficult to maintain. Cigarette smoking is Enemy No. 1 of heart disease. This epidemic causes more premature heart disease and cardiac-related death than anything else.
Another equally important tip is to develop healthy eating and exercise habits. Long-term heart health is especially tied to the ability to exercise in women. Once women become sedentary, heart health tends to decline. That after-dinner walk when the weather starts to cool is an excellent opportunity!
Lastly, even though it’s summertime and picnics are the norm, watching salt and sodium intake is especially important. Excess sodium contributes to high blood pressure and heart failure. Almost all sodium in our diets is NOT from the saltshaker but is already in the food we’ve chosen. Fast food and fried food are all loaded with sodium. Creating lasting habits isn’t easy, but deciding to start is the most important step.
What tips/advice would you like to give to the general public?
1. Check your blood pressure at one of the free BP machines at your local pharmacy. If the systolic (top number) is greater than 140 consistently, you need further evaluation.
2. If you are over 40, check your cholesterol. Take advantage of workplace health fairs that will do this for free.
3. For the love of all things holy, kick the cigarettes to the curb.
4. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Chasing kids/grandkids and most workplace activities unfortunately don’t count.
5. It’s never too late to live healthier. Start today.