Woman exercising and managing cardiovascular health.
Health Topics

The My Vanderbilt Health Guide to Cardiovascular Health


July 28, 2020

Follow this advice to get on the path to cardiovascular health and wellness.

The bad news: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Tennessee. The good news: There are plenty of ways, from leading a heart-healthy lifestyle to getting regular checkups with your physicians, to reverse the damage — or to even prevent it from happening. Here, we’re rounding up the best My Southern Health advice on cardiovascular health so that you can empower and educate yourself in the fight against this disease. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to protect yourself and your family.

Heart-healthy diet

You have control over what you eat, which is one of the biggest influences on your heart health. With a few mindful diet changes, you can make great strides toward managing — or preventing — cardiac concerns.

  • Keep enjoying foods you love, but with some heart-minded substitutions: olive oil for vegetable oil, whole-wheat flour for white flour, skim milk for whole milk, herbs for salt, etc.
  • Consider following the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to keep your blood pressure in check.
  • Read nutrition labels closely to check for sodium, and eat more home-cooked meals to avoid processed, salty foods.
  • Limit alcohol. A serving is a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor; women should have no more than one a day, men no more than two.
  • Choose homemade versus off-the-shelf, like these easy-to-make salad dressings.

Exercise and destressing

The heart is a muscle, and regular blood-pumping exercise makes it stronger and more efficient. Just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is enough to make a huge difference. But it’s not just your heart strength you’re helping when you exercise — you’re also lowering your stress levels, which can then lower your blood pressure.

  • Try to work in at least three 10-minute exercise sessions a day by taking the stairs, walking to neighborhood errands, having a dance party with the kiddos or scheduling an “active” meet-up with a friend.
  • Walk! Not only is it a great way to burn calories, but walking helps reduce cardiac events by 20 percent.
  • Examine your stress triggers and cut unnecessary demands on your time. Try keeping a stress journal, practicing yoga or talking to a counselor.
  • Get your zzzzz’s, and make sure to make time for healthy social connections.
  • Choose foods high in healthy Omega-3s (ie. salmon, almonds and walnuts) and Vitamin C (ie. oranges and leafy green veggies), as they reduce the flow of stress hormones.

Women and heart disease

It’s a common misconception that “heart disease is for men” or that “only older people get heart disease.” False, and false. The truth? Heart disease is the leading killer of women — and heart disease can affect all ages. And while we can’t change our gender or our genes, there’s plenty we can do to lower our risks and keep cardiovascular health intact.

  • Be conscious of the gender gap that exists in heart health outcomes, and be prepared to advocate for yourself, requesting diagnostic testing and more aggressive treatment plans as necessary.
  • Consult your doctor before using hormone therapies if you’re at risk for heart disease.
  • Just because you don’t have traditional risk factors — older age, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, family histories — doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Though uncommon, a condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection tends to affect women in their 40s and 50s and can lead to a heart attack. Be sure you know the warning signs for cardiac arrest.
  • Know that 10 percent of pregnancies are complicated by hypertension and other blood pressure-related disorders. Talk with your doctor on how best to prevent these issues.

Staying informed

If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step to managing your cardiovascular health. Awareness is key, and staying informed — knowing your risk factors, your options and what to keep an eye on — can be a lifesaver. Here are some things to consider.

  • Advocate for yourself by asking your doctor these 10 heart questions at your next wellness check.
  • Be sure you understand the dangers of hypertension, and that you’re keeping a close eye on your blood pressure numbers.
  • Time is everything when it comes to stroke. Know the signs and stop it before it happens. An estimated 3 to 5 percent of stroke patients reach the hospital within the critical three-hour timeframe.

The Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute‘s team treats all types of cardiovascular diseases and conditions, from the common to the complex. Our team is consistently recognized by U.S. News & World Report among the best heart hospitals in the nation and the best in Tennessee. Our wide range of services are offered in convenient locations throughout the region.

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