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Seven Steps to a Healthier Heart

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Seven Steps to a Healthier Heart

Feb 24, 2023

Your heart pumps about 100,000 times a day. It pushes your blood around 12,000 miles a day. So what do you need to know to take care of it? There are seven main features you need to consider: smoking status, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar level, diet, and physical activity. Women's health expert Kirtly Parker Jones, MD, talks to Medical Director of Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation Lillian Khor, MD, about which of the seven she considers most important, easiest, and hardest to control, and also gives tips and suggestions to achieve your ideal heart health. To check your heart health status online, take the American Heart Association's My Life Check assessment.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: Your heart pumps about 100,000 times a day. It pushes your blood around 12,000 miles a day. What do you need to know to take care of it? This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health Care and this is your heart on The Scope.

Just put your hand on your heart. It's a gesture that we use when we pledge allegiance, when we say something we really mean, when we feel something profound. But you can feel your heart beating in there unless you're kind of chubby, in which case we'll talk about that. But when you feel that pulse in your wrist or your neck or hear your pulse in your ear, it's your heart beating that you feel through the blood pulsing through the body.

If you're lucky, it's doing that without too much thought on your part even though your heart, at rest, works harder than the leg muscles of a sprinter. You should take care of your heart, symbolically and literally. How can you do that?

Today in the Scope studio, we'll be talking with Dr. Lillian Kohr. She is the Medical Director of the Preventative Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation Unit here on the University of Utah. She's a physician champion of the American College of Cardiology's Patient Navigation program and she's a former member of Utah's American Heart Association. Welcome to The Scope, Lillian.

Dr. Kohr: Thank you.

Dr. Jones: We're glad to have you here. So we are always told to do this and that about our health and it's hard to know about really what works, harder to remember and it's really hardest to do it. Can you help us with some simple steps?

What Makes a Healthy Heart?

Dr. Kohr: Well, I think it's important first to define what ideal cardiovascular health is. And essentially, there are seven main features to ideal cardiovascular health. One is not having harmful habits like smoking, having a normal weight, normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol, normal glucose or sugar levels in your blood, eating healthfully and having regular physical activity.

Exercise and Diet is Most Important for a Healthier Heart

Dr. Jones: Which is the one you'd say, if I did all of these things badly, you'd say, "But first you should . . ."

Dr. Kohr: Exercise and eat well.

Dr. Jones: Oh, rats! I was hoping you were going to say stop smoking because I don't smoke. Okay. Well, exercise and eat well, that's the first one.

Dr. Kohr: Yeah. And I say that because only 11% of Utahans actually smoke.

Dr. Jones: Oh, well, you got me there.

Dr. Kohr: So maybe smoking would be more important in other areas, but not so much here in Utah.

Dr. Jones: All right. Then what's the easiest? If I would start with one, which one is the easiest?

Dr. Kohr: I think the easiest is the most passive form of healthy lifestyle, which paradoxically, is actually blood pressure control.

Dr. Jones: Oh, good.

Dr. Kohr: Because taking medications is fairly easy as long as they're affordable. And when we look at, for example, the patients in our cardiac rehabilitation program here at the University of Utah Health Care, our average blood pressure for our patients is between 110 and 120 mmHg.

Dr. Jones: Wow. That's amazing.

Dr. Kohr: Easily achieved by them simply taking their medications.

Dr. Jones: Okay. For your patients, what's the hardest?

Dr. Kohr: I think the hardest on a regular basis is eating well every day. I think that is the hardest nowadays with our busy lifestyle and our very busy schedules. And so taking the time to prepare a meal and eating it, especially in terms of high nutrition and adequate amounts, not eating excessively is our number one challenge here in the U.S.

Heart Disease Increases for 65+ Women

Dr. Jones: Right. And of course, we're talking about women's health, although heart health, everyone's got a heart, that after 65, heart disease is more common in women than in men and I was really surprised and I guess most women would be.

Dr. Kohr: I would say that the statistic on that is changing a little, which is great. It's a moving target. But there are probably more 65-year-old women than there are men. And if we look at cardiovascular disease as being equally and in the past more prevalent in women, then it makes sense that more women at the age of 65 would have cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that through public health education campaigns and efforts like this, we now see that the number of women dying from cardiovascular disease as compared to men is changing and reducing equally as much as men. If you looked at the graph of cardiovascular death back in 2000, you would see that almost, I believe about 480,000 women compared to about 450,000 men had died that year of cardiovascular disease, and so that year more women died than men.

Dr. Jones: I Googled the American Heart Association and took my life check assessment. It was pretty easy for me because I know all my numbers, my fasting blood pressure and my fasting sugar and my cholesterol and my height and weight. So I did pretty well for women my age and they gave me a gentle or not so gentle nudge about my weight. All right already, I'm on it. Okay, everyone. Take a minute, put your hand over your heart. No matter how old you are, make a little promise to the pump that keeps you alive. Seven simple steps and a promise to take care. And thanks for joining us on The Scope.


updated: February 24, 2023
originally published: January 21, 2016