Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease, stroke or some other type of cardiovascular disease. In fact, cardiovascular disease claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

“The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to prevent cardiovascular disease or keep it from worsening,” BCH physician Kristen Royer, MD, FAAFP, of Family Medical Associates told a crowd of nearly 200 attendees during a free health lecture held earlier this month at the Boulder Jewish Community Center.

The Cause: Artery Plaque Buildup
Dr. Royer explained that cardiovascular disease includes conditions involving narrowed or blocked arteries.

“The narrowing results from cholesterol plaque buildup in the arteries. LDL or "bad cholesterol" is a risk factor for this buildup,” Dr. Royer said. “Over time, the buildup grows slowly and starts to block blood flow, which reduces the channeling of oxygen-rich blood to the body.”

She said that the worst-case scenario is when a plaque buildup ruptures. “A blood clot can form over a rupture. If it gets large enough, it will close up the artery and cut off blood flow. When a rupture occurs in heart arteries, heart muscle dies. This is a heart attack. Plaque that ruptures in one of the brain’s arteries is a stroke."

7 Ways to Slow Buildup of Plaques
According to Dr. Royer, several lifestyle changes and, if needed, medication can go a long way toward treating artery plaque buildup and reducing the risk of serious or potentially fatal cardiovascular disease. These seven lifestyle changes can even sometimes reverse some of the buildup.

1. Control high blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the most common risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80.

“We treat blood pressure that averages less than 130 over 80 with lifestyle style changes,” she said. “This includes stopping tobacco use, losing weight, exercising regularly, controlling blood-sugar levels and following a low-sodium diet, such as the DASH diet — a high protein, high fiber, low sodium diet.”

However, Dr. Royer said that If average blood pressure is greater than 140 over 90, your doctor might also decide you need blood pressure lowering medication. If you have additional risk factors such as diabetes, a prior heart attack or renal disease, your doctor might start you on medication at even lower blood pressure readings.

2. Control diabetes. Diabetes is an arterial disease that increases the risk cardiovascular disease. “It’s important to get tested and get treated for diabetes,” said Dr. Royer. “To avoid or delay the onset of diabetes, the American Diabetic Association recommends a diet high in protein and fiber and exercising 45 minutes per day.”

3. Follow a healthy diet. Dr. Royer recommended the following as a guide to a healthy diet:

  • Eating 40-100 grams of protein per day, such as lean fish, poultry, beans (legumes), eggs and nuts, divided between three meals a day.
  • Maintaining a high-fiber diet, which can be accomplished by eating four vegetables (green, leafy vegetables are best) plus 4 fruits per day (1/2 cup servings).

“Eating high-protein and fiber-rich foods reduces your appetite and keeps you from eating unneeded calories,” Dr. Royer claimed.

4. Get active. People who don't exercise are more likely to get cardiovascular disease and die from it than people who are active. Dr. Royer recommended at least 45 minutes/day of mostly aerobic exercise, or at least 4 hours/week. “Aim for relatively moderate intensity activity. The ‘talk test’ is a simple way to measure moderate intensity. This means that you can still talk, but not sing, during the activity.”

However, she warned that you should check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you aren't active now.

5. Lose weight. Losing extra weight reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as helps to lower high blood pressure and manage diabetes.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a useful measure to help you determine whether you are overweight. It's calculated from your height and weight. Normal BMI ranges between 18.5–24.9. To determine your BMI, visit this online BMI calculator.

6. Lower cholesterol (lipids) levels. Your risk for cardiovascular disease decreases when you have the following fasting cholesterols levels:

  • Total cholesterol level of less than 200 HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • Triglycerides less than 150
  • HDL (“good cholesterol”) of more than 60
  • LDL (“bad cholesterol”) of less than 100

To help lower cholesterol levels, Dr. Royer recommended eating a high-protein, fiber and vegetable diet, as well as exercising regularly. Some people will also need to take cholesterol-lowering medication.

7. Quit smoking. If you smoke, you’re more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as nonsmokers and are more likely to die if you do have a heart attack.

Calculate Your 10-Year Risk
Dr. Royer wrapped up her lecture by recommending attendees calculate their 10-year risk of heart disease or stroke by using the calculator on cvriskcalculator.com. If your 10-year risk is greater than 7.5 percent, she recommended that you discuss with your doctor starting aspirin therapy and/or medication.

Schedule an appointment with Kristen Royer, MD, by calling Family Medical Associates of Lafayette at (303) 666-1982.

Click here to view PowerPoint slides from Dr. Royer’s lecture on “Lowering Your Risk for Heart Disease and Stroke."

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