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Healthy Living

Three Things Your Cardiologist Wants You to Know

Lifestyle factors affect cardiovascular health significantly. A healthy diet and regular exercise have been proven to prevent or control high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity—all factors that contribute directly to cardiovascular disease.

Victoria Shin, MD, a Torrance Memorial Physician Network cardiologist, says 80% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented—with lifestyle modification and/or medications. The other 20% is genetic. Despite those numbers, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in America for both men and women.

“There are things we can control and things we cannot control, and in order to prevent cardiovascular disease, we aim to control the factors we can to the best of our ability,” she says.

Dr. Shin says some patients are reluctant to take medications for cardiovascular disease because they want to manage their condition with modifications to lifestyle. “I always give people an opportunity to adjust their lifestyle—to address diet and exercise—to control their high cholesterol or blood pressure or borderline diabetes. For some people, lifestyle modifications can only do so much. Either genetics affect the risk factors or the patient cannot stay compliant to achieve the goals necessary to reduce risk. In this case, modern medicine steps in.”

While most people know diet and exercise affect cardiovascular health, there are other lifestyle factors that can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

1. Stay Hydrated

Hydration helps maintain blood pressure and kidney function. Older individuals sometimes have a suppressed thirst drive, Dr. Shin says, so maintaining hydration takes more effort. Exercise, hot weather and medications all affect hydration.

“We need to make a conscious effort to drink more water. Water—not soft drinks or sugary juices. Dehydration just makes you feel bad—you feel sluggish, dizzy and lack energy. Our bodies are usually pretty good about telling us we need to be more hydrated by triggering the thirst response,” she says.

2. Be Social

“Studies have shown older adults who have a robust social network are healthier in terms of cardiovascular health, as well as reducing incidence of dementia,” Dr. Shin says. Friendships lower stress hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate, and friends often support a healthy lifestyle by reinforcing good habits or encouraging each other to seek medical attention when it’s needed. Dr. Shin says exercising with a friend is a great way to accomplish two important activities at once.

3. Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels, which raises blood pressure and heart rate and possibly adds to vascular resistance—all negative factors for the cardiovascular system. Sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure and arrhythmias, so those who snore loudly and stop breathing when they snore—or have excessive daytime sleepiness—should be screened for sleep apnea. For good regular sleep habits, Dr. Shin recommends a set bedtime, no caffeine after 3 p.m., no alcohol before bedtime and no technology right before bed.

A healthy lifestyle and medication, when prescribed, are essential to good cardiovascular health. Avoiding smoking and using illegal drugs are two other important choices. Dr. Shin says a proactive approach also includes knowing your risk factors and following your doctor’s recommendations.

“Know your numbers. It is important to get evaluated by your primary care doctor to check baseline blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, sugar levels, etc. Based on that, your doctor can tell you if your numbers are off and what we need to do to get you to your healthiest goal,” she says. “We don’t prescribe medications just for the heck of it. We do it to prevent or treat problems. There is a definite role for medications, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of what modern medicine and science has to offer.”

Victoria Shin, MD, is a cardiologist with the Torrance Memorial Physician Network. She practices at 2841 Lomita Blvd., Ste. 235 in Torrance. She can reached at 310-517-8950.