Take Control of Your Heart Health

By Dr. Jose Vergara, 

Primary Care

In the United States, Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) remains far and away the leading cause of death in men and women.  Fortunately, since 1975, deaths from CVD have declined.  About half of that decline is due to favorable changes in risk factors, with the rest attributed to early diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

Most of the known risk factors for CVD can be treated or changed with preventive measures.  A recent study identified controllable factors that decreased the risk of a first heart attack.  If you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, or have already been diagnosed, take control of your health by changing these risk factors for the better:

• Cigarette smoking remains the leading avoidable cause of premature death and a major avoidable cause of premature disability.  The benefits of smoking cessation begin to appear after only a few months and reach that of the nonsmoker in several years.

• All patients with elevated cholesterol are advised to exercise, eat a prudent diet, and lose weight as appropriate.  Your health care provider will decide when treating with medication should begin.  

• High blood pressure and pre-high blood pressure patients should practice lifestyle changes that include weight reduction, salt restriction, and avoidance of excess alcohol intake.

• In the United States, obesity is becoming the leading avoidable cause of premature deaths.  Talk with your provider about your willingness and ability to adopt lifestyle changes as well as other interventions of proven benefit. 

• Regular physical activity is recommended from early childhood and throughout life.  Adults with limited exercise capacity due to multiple medical problems should stay as physically active as their condition allows.  Even modest amounts of regular physical activity such as a brisk walk for 20 minutes a day is associated with significant risk lowering benefits.

• People who consume a healthy diet have significantly lower risks of CVD.  A healthy diet includes fruits and vegetables, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids from fish, plants, or supplements and limiting trans or saturated fats.

• Numerous studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol lower the risk of heart disease.  The benefit seems related to the small amount consumed rather than the type of alcoholic beverage.  However, any benefit of small daily alcohol intake must be weighed against the risks.

• Lastly, aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of a first time heart attack.  However, the data on stroke and death from CVD remain inconclusive.  The decision whether or not to recommend aspirin in primary prevention should be made on an individual basis by your health care provider.

There is certainly plenty of evidence that the risk of CVD can be reduced or even prevented by modifying our behavior.  Small behavioral changes over time can lead to life-long changes.  In this time of New Year’s Resolutions, why not take the first step in modifying any of the noted risk factors?  Your heart will thank you for it.


Dr. Jose Vergara is an Internal Medicine physician at Calais Regional Medical Services Family Practice.  He provides a full complement of health services from adolescence to mature adulthood.  CRMS care includes chronic disease management, acute care and injury visits, preventative care, physicals, and workers comp exams. CRMS Family Practice is Nationally Recognized for Diabetes Care and Hypertension Care.