Cardiologists Offer Tips to Protect Hearts in a Bad Economy

A bad economy can take its toll on the heart with increased stress, poor eating, and forgoing healthful activities like going to the gym when money is tight. UCLA cardiologists suggest the following tips to help protect the heart during this time of financial uncertainty.

"We've seen an increase in patients complaining about heart palpitations, anxiety, and stress over the past months," said Dr. Karol Watson, associate professor of cardiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Much of heart disease can be prevented, that's why it is so important to follow a healthy lifestyle and to control your cardiovascular risk factors."

Adults: 10 Healthy Heart Tips in a Bad Economy

  1. Avoid salty, fatty food. To save money, eat out at restaurants less and cook at home from scratch, eating simple fresh foods. Also maintain a healthy weight. Obesity has been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and diabetes. A healthy diet and exercise program is the best way to maintain a normal weight.
  2. Don't skimp on health care. Delaying seeking care when you have symptoms or splitting pills to cut costs is not helping your health in the long run. If prescription costs are a concern, check with your doctor since many pharmaceutical companies offer lower cost prescription programs. Studies show that individuals who stop their cardiovascular medications are at much higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and reduced survival compared with those who adhere to their medical regimen.
  3. Keep up the exercise. Even if you have to drop your gym membership due to costs, participate in more inexpensive options like walking in the neighborhood or swimming at the local pool. New recommendations are to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes daily. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and keeps your heart strong and disease free.
  4. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. It's better for your heart and wallet to quit smoking since it's an expensive habit. Smoking markedly increases the risk of heart attacks and heart failure. Quitting smoking rapidly reduces your cardiovascular risk.
  5. Reduce stress. Spend more time with family and friends. Life can be stressful, especially during times of financial hardship. The key to keeping stress from harming your health lies in finding a positive outlet, like exercise or meditation. These activities can relieve stress and also improve your health.

  6. Get your cholesterol levels checked. High cholesterol does not cause any symptoms until it is too late. The only way to know if you have a healthy cholesterol level is to get it checked. If you have not had your levels checked in the past year or two, get them checked now.
  7. Maintain a healthy cholesterol level. The ideal level for your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) is less than 100. Certain individuals need to achieve even lower LDL cholesterol levels. Keeping your HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels up is also important. Know your lipid levels and talk to your physician about the best plan of action to keep your cholesterol levels ideal.
  8. Get your blood pressure checked. Many patients with hypertension are not aware that they have this condition. There are very well-tolerated and effective treatments for high blood pressure.
  9. Maintain a normal blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. Your systolic blood pressure should be below 140 and your diastolic blood pressure below 90. Certain individuals need to achieve even tighter control of their blood pressure.
  10. See your doctor. Regular medical follow-up is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy and avoid problems down the road.

Children and Adolescents: Seven Tips for a Healthy Heart

No matter the state of the economy, it is always important for kids and teens to develop heart-healthy habits too.

"The path to heart disease begins at an early age," said Dr. Thomas Klitzner, professor of pediatric cardiology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. "Obesity and high blood pressure are becoming an epidemic in children and young adults. By exercising regularly, eating well, and not smoking, children can form heart-healthy habits that will help protect them from future heart attacks and strokes."

  1. Watch no more than one hour of television a day. (This includes non-schoolwork-related computer activities, video games, and Game Boy-type activities.)
  2. Make a point of getting outside and moving around for at least 30 minutes every day.
  3. Eat a healthy diet including five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  4. To help achieve a healthy weight, eat in moderation. Avoid fast food and fried food.
  5. Don't smoke.
  6. See your pediatrician for all regularly scheduled visits.
  7. Report unusual feelings, such as a racing heart or feeling faint, to an adult.

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