Heart health can be an intimidating subject to broach with your doctor. What if it’s bad news? Knowing what to ask (and writing it down) can make a big difference in knowing what your heart disease risk is and what changes you need to make if any. The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 is a good starting point:
- Stop smoking.
- Maintain fasting blood glucose under 100 mg/dL.
- Keep total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL.
- Have blood pressure in the normal range: 120/80 mmHg or lower.
- Lose weight (a healthy body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 25).
- Spend at least two-and-a-half hours per week getting moderate exercise.
- Clean up your diet.
Before your doctor visit, review these seven habits and honestly assess where you think you are. Your doctor will have to measure your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, but you can calculate your BMI with this BMI calculator. Coming in with an honest assessment of your current habits will help start the conversation about what you’re doing well and which areas you could improve.
In addition to getting a blood cholesterol panel, which measures serum HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, talk to your doctor about measuring your apoB LDL. This LDL particle is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease – so strong that the American College of Cardiology and the American Diabetes Association released a consensus statement where apoB is cited as a focus for treatment in individuals with high cardiometabolic risk.
If you have other risk factors like high blood sugar, high blood pressure, or a BMI outside the recommended range, testing and possibly lowering your apoB could be important for reducing your heart disease risk.
Finally, discuss your diet and exercise regimens. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in sugar and overall glycemic load are associated with lower heart disease risk. Researchers also have found eating more vegetables is more important that eating a variety of them. For the most bang for your buck, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, and beta-carotene and vitamin-C rich foods like sweet potatoes were associated with lower risk.
For exercise, a simple walk goes a long way. You can go one step further by adding strength training to your routine. Combined strength and cardio training are better for losing fat and increasing strength while improving cardiovascular health, according to a review of 12 different studies.
What other tips can you share for having helpful conversations with your doctor about improving heart health?
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