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Sharp Health News

Listen to your heart

March 30, 2022

Happy woman holding her heart

Over the years, many songs have been written about the heart — listening to your heart, being true to your heart and even your cheatin’ heart, to name a few. They may have been written for the listener’s enjoyment, but when it comes to a ensuring you have a healthy heart, the first song rings especially true.

According to Dr. Marin Nishimura, a board-certified cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group, we should listen to our hearts to make sure they’re healthy. This means recognizing the symptoms of heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S.

Common heart disease symptoms include the following:

  • 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,” Dr. Nishimura says.

Following a heart disease diagnosis
If you receive a heart disease diagnosis, medications are often prescribed, and lifestyle changes are recommended. Dr. Nishimura advises you to learn about each of the medications and why they are important to your heart health. Some medications are critical, she says, and missing doses may be life threatening.

Additionally, it is helpful to have a family member accompany you to visits with your doctor. This allows the doctor to counsel everyone at the same time and determine which treatment pathway will work best. “When family members are present, the patient has a better chance of following the recommendations,” Dr. Nishimura says.

Recommended lifestyle changes
When it comes to lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and increasing your daily movement, Dr. Nishimura understands that for many, such changes are easier said than done.

“Go outside” is Dr. Nishimura’s 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.

Dr. Nishimura recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week — 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. She also advises families to work together to make healthy lifestyle changes.

“I have found that when families work together, they all reach a healthier lifestyle and feel better,” she says. “Without consistent support, people can have a difficult time making lifestyle changes. If you live alone, ask a friend to walk with you to help support your healthy lifestyle.”

Changes in your diet also play a key role in managing heart disease. Dr. Nishimura joins the American Heart Association in advising you to eat an “overall healthy dietary pattern.”

This includes a diet that emphasizes the following:

  • 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

As the song says, listen to your heart. And as Dr. Nishimura says, talk with your doctor if you heart lets you know something may be amiss.

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