Heart attack
A man suffering during a heart attack. Photo via Pixabay

Over the years, many songs have been written about the heart — their lyrics encouraging you to listen to your heart, be true to your heart and even warning you about your cheatin’ heart, to name just a few. But when it comes to ensuring you have a healthy heart, the first song rings especially true: We must listen to our hearts.

You know your body best. And it’s crucial that you pay attention to the messages you receive and learn how to recognize signs of heart disease, the cause of 1 in every 5 deaths in the U.S. Common heart disease symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Heart flutter
  • Dizziness
  • Swollen legs or ankles
  • Temporary loss of consciousness

These symptoms — along with your family’s heart health history — shouldn’t be ignored. If you have a strong family history of heart disease or you experience any symptoms, it’s very important to let your doctor know.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Your Risk

If you are concerned about your heart health or your doctor feels you may be at risk for heart disease, medications may be prescribed, and lifestyle changes will likely be recommended. Learn about each of the medications and why they are important to your heart health. Some medications are critical and missing doses may be life threatening.

When it comes to lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and increasing your daily movement, I understand that for many, such changes are easier said than done. This is why “Go outside” is my No. 1 suggestion for better health, especially since we live in San Diego, where we enjoy great weather most of the year.

Exercise, even if you start slowly, has many great effects on the cardiovascular system. Not only does it improve the traditional risk factors for heart disease — such as high blood pressure, diabetes, unhealthy weight and elevated cholesterol levels — it’s also great for your well-being, which is associated with improved cardiovascular health. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week — 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week.

Changes in your diet also play a key role in managing heart disease. I join the American Heart Association in advising you to eat an “overall healthy dietary pattern.” This includes a diet that emphasizes:

  • A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains
  • Healthy sources of protein — legumes and nuts, fish and seafood, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and lean and unprocessed meat and poultry
  • Liquid non-tropical vegetable oils
  • Minimally processed foods
  • Minimal added sugars
  • Foods prepared with little or no salt
  • Limited or no alcohol

Work with your loved ones to make healthy lifestyle changes. I have found that when families and friends work together, they all reach a healthier lifestyle and feel better. And as the song says, listen to your heart. Talk with your doctor if you heart lets you know something may be amiss.

Dr. Marin Nishimura is a board-certified cardiologist with Sharp Community Medical Group.