Heart Disease: A Problem for All Ages
Heart disease and atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, are not problems that only older people face. Cardiologists around the country, including here at Middlesex Health, are seeing an increase in younger patients.
Patients in their 30s – and even 20s – are showing signs of heart disease and even having heart attacks, says Dr. Mojca Lorbar, a cardiologist with Middlesex Cardiology Associates.
Heart disease and atherosclerosis can often start early and be silent for many decades. However, Dr. Lorbar says the risk factors that predispose us to heart disease are increasing in young adults and children.
Dr. Lorbar says she often finds that bad lifestyle habits originate from childhood, leading to hypertension, elevated cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. These bad habits include getting a lack of adequate physical activity, making poor food and nutritional choices and a lack of understanding about normal meal portions, and these bad habits can be hard to change.
Dr. Lorbar starts by educating patients. If patients learn about the disease process and the role of risk factors, she says they tend to be more motivated to change. After patients learn more, the most urgent issues are addressed, such as uncontrolled blood pressure and diabetes. Medication is prescribed if necessary, and individual risk factors are addressed.
The importance of exercise
Dr. Lorbar says that exercise capacity is one of the best indicators of your health, and it is a predictor of your long-term outcome. Exercise changes your metabolism; decreases insulin resistance, a major factor in the development of diabetes; changes the lining of your blood vessels called endothelium; and has many more benefits. It is recommended that you log 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as fast walking, each week.
If you have not been active regularly, start slowly. Dr. Lorbar encourages starting with a short duration of activity – about 10 minutes a day – and increasing the amount of physical activity over time. Any amount of physical activity has been shown to decrease cardiovascular risk!
“So, just keep moving and be active is my frequent motto,” Dr. Lorbar says. “I tell my patients that exercise has to be part of your daily routine – just like brushing your teeth, showering or eating.”
Advice on nutrition and weight loss
Dr. Lorbar recommends the Mediterranean, or plant-based, diet because it has been shown to decrease cardiovascular mortality. However, it is worth noting that no diet has been shown to help with long-term weight loss.
Because of this, Dr. Lorbar suggests that you should focus more on trying to make small changes to what you eat rather than focusing on a specific weight loss goal. Your goal should be to eliminate processed food, high sodium items, partially hydrogenated oils, soda and desserts and to decrease alcohol. Focus on nourishing your body with high-quality items, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain, nuts and legumes. These changes should not be temporary. It should be a new, healthier lifestyle.
When it comes to weight gain, pay attention to small weight gains of about 2 or 3 pounds and adjust your diet so that your weight returns back to your baseline. It’s much harder to try to lose 10 or more pounds!
If you have a family history of premature heart disease, you may want to see cardiologist at a younger age. This will help address any risk factors aggressively. Screening tests that are appropriate for your age may also be considered.
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