Though we may think of heart health as a concern for older adults, young people with risk factors for heart disease should take action now.
Rohit Bhatheja, MD, an AdventHealth cardiologist who serves as Chairman of Cardiology for AdventHealth, says it’s never too early to think about ways to help your heart.
When Should I Get My Heart Checked?
Just like those who live on a fault line should be prepared for an earthquake, people at higher risk of heart disease should pay attention to heart health. Some ways you could be at high risk include:
- Being Overweight or Obese
- Experiencing High Levels of Stress
- Having a Relative with Heart Disease at a Young Age
- Having Diabetes
- Smoking Cigarettes
- High Blood pressure
- High Cholesterol
Depending on your risk, it might be a good idea to talk to a doctor about your heart as early as your teens.
“A basic blood test and ECG (a test of the heart’s electrical activity) with your primary care doctor will help you get to a cardiologist if needed,” Dr. Bhatheja says.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Though an ailing heart sends out signals that it’s in trouble, these can sometimes be mistaken for something else, or ignored. Those symptoms include:
- Chest Pain
- Shortness of Breath During Activity or at Rest
However, some people with heart disease don’t have any symptoms at all, Dr. Bhatheja says.
Staying Young at Heart
Keeping your heart healthy now can pay off decades into the future. Behaviors to help reduce your risk include:
- Achieve a Healthy Weight
- Avoid High Blood Sugar
- Avoid Smoking
- Control Blood Pressure
- Eat Healthy Food
- Get Regular Exercise
- Keep Cholesterol in Healthy Range
Dr. Bhatheja recommends the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to be excellent for heart health.
“Generally, olive oil, low carbs, increased lean meat (white meat) and plant proteins are the basic ingredients for a healthy heart diet,” he says. The long term effects of diets high in fat, including the KETO diet, are not well studied to predict long-term consequences; it may be harmful if you have heart disease. Based on your lifestyle, it may be helpful to see a nutritionist.
Exercise is also critical — “Even mild or light exercise is very helpful,” Dr. Bhatheja says. If you’re planning a high-intensity activity or exercise regimen it’s best to talk to a cardiologist first.
Very strenuous workouts may cause problems with your heart’s rhythm, or arrhythmias, which can be fatal in those with untreated heart disease. Certain tests and discussions with your doctor about your health history can answer questions about arrhythmias.
Avoiding smoking, which can damage blood vessels and make it easier for artery-clogging plaque to build up, is especially useful. Using e-cigarettes can also be harmful to one’s heart because they contain nicotine and other toxins.
Meditation can also be helpful. “It reduces stress-induced hormone release that may have negative consequences on heart health,” he says.
How to Take Action
Knowing you’re taking steps to have a healthy heart isn’t just good for your body; it can also help calm your mind. One way to take control of your health — at any age — is to talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease.