Undergoing a heart procedure such as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), also called coronary angioplasty, puts into sharp focus the need to take better care of your heart. But what exactly does that entail?
Being heart-healthy is often called a lifestyle because it involves not just one, but many things you can do on a regular (even daily) basis to keep your heart strong and problem-free. Here’s how you can get started.
Cut back on foods with added sugar. New research shows that eating too much sugar contributes to heart disease.
Reduce your intake of saturated fats and eliminate trans fats (that’s any item on an ingredients list that says it’s partially hydrogenated). Choose lean meats, skinless poultry, and plant-based proteins such as tofu, beans and tempeh.
Ask your doctor about eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon. While omega-3s are otherwise heart-healthy, they may increase bleeding risk when combined with anti-clotting medication.
Get control of your salt (sodium) intake to help manage your blood pressure. Aim to eat no more than 2,400 mg of sodium daily. Reducing to just 1,500 mg daily can lower your blood pressure even further. Rely on good-for-you fresh herbs and spices for flavor instead.
Increase your daily dose of veggies and fruit to seven to nine servings a day. It’s not as much as it sounds! That's what's in: a lunch salad with 1 cup raw cabbage, 2/3 cup lettuce, and 1/2 cup cucumbers; an apple (3 1/4” in diameter) for a mid-day snack; and 8 spears of asparagus and 1/2 cup of peas at dinner.
Ask your doctor whether you can eat veggies rich in vitamin K, such as kale, spinach, broccoli, onions and other dark leafy greens. They may also interfere with any blood thinner medications you are taking, such as warfarin.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two drinks a day for men.
Getting regular exercise helps your heart on many fronts. Exercise helps strengthen your heart muscles, make your veins more flexible and supple, improves circulation, helps you lose or maintain weight, helps regulate appetite, reduces stress and improves sleep.
With your doctor’s okay, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (meaning your heart is pumping and you’re sweating lightly) on five or more days of the week. If you were physically active before your surgery, work with your doctor to gauge what level of activity and what type (cycling, swimming, golfing, etc.) you can safely return to doing.
Here are general guidelines for setting up an (almost) daily walking program. Remember to always talk to your doctor or other health care provider before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Start out with a 5- to 10-minute walk to gauge your strength and endurance. Aim to walk for 10 to 20 minutes each day at an easy pace for the first four weeks. Then increase your total time, distance and/or speed, as seems comfortable.
Get a pedometer to count your steps. When you make a game of going further and further, it’s easier and easier!
Stress can increase inflammation, raise blood sugar and stimulate behaviors that aren't good for your blood pressure or heart. Ten minutes of mindful meditation or a deep breating rountine daily can be very effective.
If you smoke, even occasionally, get help to quit. Smoking restricts circulation by making your blood vessels harder and narrower. Smoking contributes to atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries (which angioplasty and stenting is used to treat); atherosclerosis can lead to heart attack and stroke. Smoking also raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises your risk of stroke.
It’s also important to avoid secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke contributes greatly to heart disease and stroke.
There are many resources available to help you quit. Talk to your doctor about your options. Keep trying different options until you find one that works.
You’ll be given over-the-counter and prescription medications to lower your cholesterol and/or blood pressure, and help prevent blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Follow your prescribed regimen exactly. Never stop taking medication without the supervision of your doctor; stopping suddenly your medications can increase your risk of a blood clot or heart attack.
Talk with your doctor — and then talk some more! Maintaining good communication with your doctor is key to sticking with your plan. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor any questions you have. Remember, your doctor wants you to be as healthy as possible! Get answers to all your questions and concerns; keep tabs on your heart health through blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol screenings; and make sure your anti-clotting medications are doing their job.
Following these five steps after your stent operation will help reduce your risk of future blockages and let you regain the energy you need to enjoy life to the fullest.
Published August 6, 2014