Baby steps, big heart
The road to a healthy heart is paved with tiny pebbles.
By Ivan Olegario, M.D.
Like Rome, heart attacks aren’t built in a day. The fragile, high-pressure blood clots that cause them take years—sometimes decades—of possessing a multitude of risk factors, each contributing a small portion to the overall heart disease risk. These risk factors include smoking; high "bad" blood cholesterol; low "good" blood cholesterol; high blood pressure or hypertension; physical inactivity; obesity; uncontrolled diabetes; and uncontrolled stress and anger. Each day of exposure to any of these factors builds up risk for the heart, which over time creates significant danger that can ultimately lead to an instantaneous “bubble bursting” heart attack.
Unfortunately, there’s no medicine to date that can clean up your arteries the way a drain cleaner dissolves gunk in your pipes. Keeping your cardiac plumbing clear is a matter of day-to-day prevention to either eliminate or lower the tiny but incremental risk that each factor piles on your heart every day.
But this puts us lazy, normal folks in a favorable position. You cannot and should not try to lower your heart risk in one go by starving yourself or running a marathon. Instead, you can take small steps, done consistently from day to day, to reduce your heart risk. Here’s how:
Cold turkey has always been the method of smoking cessation that reaps the most benefit for your heart and lungs. But for some people, the resulting cravings can be too intense. Try to quit smoking by doing progressive reduction. Lessen the number of cigarettes you smoke a stick a day—or week if your addiction is strong. Sooner or later, you’ll be able to reduce your consumption and eventually quit for good. If you want to fast-track your progress, throw away your cigarette when it’s only half-smoked.
Reducing your bad cholesterol
The simplest thing you can do to lower your bad cholesterol is to follow your doctor’s orders and pop your prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication faithfully. If you haven’t been given a prescription, try the following instead: