Friday, February 29, 2008
Keeping your heart healthy at every age
By Val Willingham
Medical Producer

As a certified EMS worker, Jeff Schaffer knows a lot about the heart. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Schaffer travels with emergency crews from three states. He teaches CPR, gives lectures on heart health, and talks to school kids about firefighting and ambulance work. His father died from a heart attack at 61. So you would think when he began to have chest pains while teaching a CPR class, 15 years ago, Schaffer would have gone to the doctor. But he didn't. He ignored his own advice. Despite his vomiting and nausea, Schaffer admits, he was in denial. "I just blew it off and said it couldn't happen to me."

Schaffer finally went to the ER, but not until after having symptoms for two days. At 39, Schaffer was indeed having a heart attack. His doctors said he was lucky to be alive. The ironic part of this story is even though Schaffer knew all the symptoms of a cardiac event he never thought about his own heart. He didn't know his own blood pressure or cholesterol rate. He thought he was invincible until his doctor gave him the bad news. Schaffer said his triglycerides level was about 530 and his cholesterol at the time of his heart attack was 312. Both numbers were dangerously high.

And even though his story is hard to believe, heart specialists say it's typical. Doctors find most people in in their 30s never think about the possibility of having a heart attack. Most joke and say that's for old people. But statistics show 5 percent of those having heart attacks are under the age of 40. Cardiologists blame stressful lives, fast food and smoking. Also, in our 30s, hardening of the arteries begins. It's a slow process that increases your risk of heart attack over time.

A good indicator that plaque could be hardening your arteries is high levels of bad cholesterol - so watch your numbers, even in your younger years, including your blood pressure reading. Know the difference between LDL and HDL, the bad and good cholesterol. And pay attention to triglycerides. Doctors are finding a high triglyceride number is a precursor to poor heart health. Dr. Michael Miller, director of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, notes, "If you have high LDL and high triglycerides, you appear to be at the highest risk of having a heart attack." In new research, Miller has found these bad cholesterol and triglycerides act like Bonnie and Clyde: Each alone can affect your heart in a bad way, but together, they're deadly.

Also, doctors will tell you, if you smoke, quit. It can make a huge difference in your heart health. A recent study showed smokers ages 35-39 had five times the risk for heart attacks than nonsmokers of the same age.

And know your family heart history. If one of your parents died at an early age from heart disease, start working with your doctor to keep your heart in good shape.

Putting on weight? As we age our metabolism naturally slows down. That can lead to weight gain, which can raise blood pressure and stress our circulation system.

Increase your exercise. Research shows that even 10 minutes a day can improve your cardiovascular fitness.

Today at 54, Schaffer feels better then he did in his 30s. He watches what he eats, takes medication, and closely watches his numbers. He knows he's lucky to be alive and he wants to stay that way. Because he knows if he doesn’t he could die at an early age.

How do you keep your heart healthy? Tell us. We'd like to hear about it.

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I eat healthy ... (no fatty foods or too much salt)

run on the treadmill...

and I take one 81mg baby aspirin a day! I am 47 and have a history of heart disease in the family...
so in my early 30's I started to really take care of myself.
Good-morning, Val Willingham.

It was thoughtful,well written,and eye opening,thank you so much.
My mom underwent the bypass in 2001
I am still sad just thinking about it. Fortunately the operation was completed successfully. My mom has high blood pressure. Although hypertension doesn't kill itself, its complications can be deadly: increased risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. You said, "in our 30s, hardening of the arteries begins" I didn't know it... Some doctors said that jogging will help people who have not had a heart attack to avoid it. I jog almost everyday in the gym near my house. But one bad thing was that my calf got stiff on it as a result my calf changed ugly --;; so I changed it into walking recently. Pleasant walking and sweet dreams!!! Thanks again, Val Willingham, for your insight. Take care always!! Have a great weekend.
I enjoy using juicing for health and weight loss to facilitate heart health. This is one of the best ways to make sure that you get all the fresh stuff you need daily. At the same time it is a low-calorie, fat-free snack that satisfies a sweet tooth. It is also extremely filling - try having a glass before your main meal. You are sure to eat less.
Stairs. I just started this year, at age 46. Instead of automatically making a beeline for the escalator, I climb the stairs out of the subway, and two of the flights at work, to gradually become more when that much no longer leaves me gasping and my knees aching! I hope to be climbing to my office on the 6th floor before the weather turns hot.
I exercise a lot, so I hope my heart is ok. But for many people it is dificult to get enough exercise. A recent study has shown that lack of sleep lowers the intensity people exercise at and that this increases their weight.

I know from my own experience that just a mild lack of sleep for two days or longer will affect my ability to concentrate after I have done my exercise (half an hour of running).

So, perhaps society needs to change and value sleeping time and exercise time more. This should start at a young age when we learn our bad habits. Also, if young people who are still growing start to exercise more, they'll grow stronger hearts and lungs.
I really believe that stress is a main factor when dealing with the heart....I myself stay healthy by eating lots a green vegies and an assortment of teas, and organic juices. However I also carpe-diem, and understand that life is a journey to be enjoyed... Live your life to the fullest, laugh at yourself and the small things, make others laugh and stress will have no door to enter...surround yourself with friends and family and you and your heart will benefit.

Kraig Rasool
Ft Washington Md
I take vitamins to protect my heart:
2 gm Niacin, 8 gm Vitamin C and 400 IU Vitamin E every day.

Since taking Niacin my chloresterol went down from 266 to 176.
My husband suffered a heart attack on January 8, 2008. He is doing well-thankfully. At the time of the heart attack his cholesterol level was 169 (normal level), LDL was 109 (a little high). His triglycerides have never been high. He was 35 pounds overweight, and he exercised about 1-2 times a week. I have detailed this on a heart attack blog at:
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