An Affair of the Heart By Margaret Lewin, MD, FACP – Medical Director, Cinergy Health

February is National Heart Month and not just because of Valentine’s Day. According to the American Heart Association, one in 2.4 American women will lose their lives to heart disease and stroke – the first and third biggest killers of women. In comparison, breast cancer kills one in 29. So let’s look at V.A.L.E.N.T.I.N.E.S. Day from another vantage point: reducing our risk of heart disease.

Vitamin D plays a significant role in the cellular structure of the heart and its pumping ability, and deficiency can lead to heart disease and stroke. Although Vitamin D is created after direct exposure to sunlight, our appropriate efforts to protect our skin from cancer can block this path. It’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food, short of drinking four glasses of milk daily. Ask your doctor to check your blood level of Vitamin D and ask whether supplements are appropriate.

Avoid “bad fats” like hydrogenated and saturated, and eliminate trans-fats altogether. Replace them with vegetable oils such as olive, canola, corn and soy, and those supplemented with omega-3’s. Do recognize that all fats have the same number of calories, so use even “good” fats sparingly.

Lose that belly fat as it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Belly fat is usually the first area to shrink with moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and strength training with weights.

Exercise has other heart-healthy benefits: it can help control blood lipid abnormalities, blood pressure and diabetes, as well as make the heart work more efficiently during exercise and rest. Even after suffering a heart attack, people who embark on a graduated exercise program have better rates of survival, as well as a better quality of life.

Note package labeling in prepared foods and look for the types and amounts of fats and sugars. Choose foods absent in trans-fats and low in other ‘bad fats’; and look for “no added sugar” or “unsweetened” products.

Take time each day for relaxation. Stress contributes to heart disease by turning on hormones that cause a rapid heartbeat, rise in blood pressure, increased turbulence in the bloodstream, and – some scientists believe – speed up the process of fatty material collecting in the coronary arteries. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and t’ai chi can break the cycle.

Be Informed about your blood pressure, blood sugar and lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). If you’re not in optimum ranges, discuss with your doctor how to get there.

Nix sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for women (9 for men). This isn’t much – for example a bottle of cola with 44 grams of sugar contains 10 teaspoons! (Be aware that “naturally sweetened” products often contain added fruit juice or lactose from milk, which are added sugars.) These recommendations do not include natural sugars, like in fruit.

Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains.

Stop smoking – the major preventable risk factor for heart disease. It increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the risk of abnormal blood clots leading directly to heart attacks and strokes.

Don’t just limit healthy heart habits to National Heart Month – extend them to every day of the year. But, on Valentine’s Day, you’re allowed to have that one piece of chocolate!

About Dr. Margaret Lewin
Chief Medical Director of Cinergy Health
Board-certified in Internal Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology, she is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. She is affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital and The Hospital for Special Surgery.

Dr. Lewin has worked throughout her career to improve the American healthcare system. She has been on the boards of state and local medical societies and is Immediate Past President of the New York County Medical Society and Immediate Past District President of the American College of Physicians. Her decades-long volunteer work has included service to many local projects and organizations and has been enriched by her medical missions to the Third World.

Dr. Lewin has authored numerous articles in leading medical journals and lay magazines, as well as chapters for medical textbooks. Her areas of special interest and expertise include primary and preventive care, travel medicine, men’s health and women’s health.

A graduate of Case Western University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, Dr. Lewin’s undergraduate degree from Purdue University is in Aeronautics, Astronautics, and the Engineering Sciences and she holds an M.S. in applied mathematics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

More Stories
Space Clearing Practices to Improve Energy and Wellness
Space Clearing Practices to Improve Energy and Wellness