Monday Medical: 3 ways to love your heart |

Monday Medical: 3 ways to love your heart

Susan Cunningham/For the Steamboat Today

Design a pump to work non-stop for 80-plus years, and it’d be a technological marvel — but that’s exactly what your heart does.

“It’s a pretty phenomenal machine,” said Dr. William Baker, Steamboat Springs cardiologist. “It’s been pumping non-stop from before you were born. That’s a lot of work.”

This highlights the importance of taking care of your heart. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. The term heart disease includes a number of conditions: arrhythmia, heart valve problems and heart attack.

But the good news, Baker said, is that the majority of heart disease can be prevented. He recommends three ways to protect your heart: foster a healthy lifestyle, manage risk factors and respond quickly to possible heart attacks.

1. Foster a healthy lifestyle: Long-term studies of thousands of subjects continue to bear out the importance of lifestyle in maintaining heart health. That means a good diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and not smoking.

“Lifestyle is your best shot of lowering the risk,” Baker said. “Unfortunately, it can be difficult. It takes a real commitment. There’s no magic pill a doctor can prescribe that’s going to make you healthy.”

To cultivate a healthy lifestyle, Baker recommends starting young and making health a habit. At any age, it’s important to create a support system — whether that means working with a nutritionist, a trainer or a workout buddy.

Once someone starts to focus on health, the benefits can motivate him or her to continue.

“People that adopt healthy lifestyles just feel better,” Baker said. “They’re more energetic, sleep better, have less depression, less anxiety. The benefits are broad.”

2. Determine your risk factors: Even people who make health a priority can experience heart disease, a fact that’s important to remember in places like Steamboat Springs, which have relatively healthy populations. That’s why Baker recommends that everyone understands and manages his or her risks.

A regular doctor’s visit is the best place to start. During the visit, the doctor should check your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight as well as ask about family history with heart disease. It’s especially important to carefully manage conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“Once you know your risk, do everything you can to help it stay as low as possible,” Baker said.

3. Know symptoms of a heart attack: The most important factor in surviving a heart attack is getting help as quickly as possible. Making it to the hospital fast means the chances of survival are good. So it’s critical to take any sign of heart attack seriously.

A heart attack can manifest in various ways: breathlessness, sweating, nausea, indigestion and pressure in the neck, arm, shoulder or back. Chest pain, surprisingly, isn’t always a symptom. In fact, waiting for pain often is waiting too long, Baker said.

“You don’t ride it out to see if it goes away. The faster you get to the hospital, the better,” Baker said. “If you think it might even remotely be a heart attack, it’s worth getting it checked out.”

When it comes to heart health, Baker is the first to say that there’s no real secret. With a healthy lifestyle and risk management, you can keep your heart healthy.

“If these things are all addressed, you can dramatically lower the risk,” Baker said.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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