February is American Heart Month, and the heart still is one of the most crucial components of overall health.
Heart disease and related heart conditions are the leading cause of death in America each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Dr. Rikin Patel, a cardiologist in the AdventHealth System, said even with new research and medical developments, diet and exercise remain the most important factors in heart health.
In the six years he has practiced cardiology, Patel said heart disease trends have not changed dramatically, other than new issues that relate to COVID-19.
Patients with COVID-19 complications, especially those who become hospitalized and are put on ventilators, do have an increased risk for heart disease, Patel said. He mentioned a separate threat, though: patients avoiding seeking medical care or ignoring symptoms because they are worried about contracting the coronavirus in medical facilities.
For the general public, Patel advises cardiovascular exercise: swimming, walking, running, jogging, elliptical machines, aerobics -- “anything that kind of works up a sweat.”
His dietary recommendations include eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, moderate dairy consumption and not eating excessive amounts of red meat.
“The general American diet unfortunately is not very good for coronary disease,” the cardiologist said.
People who exercise, eat healthy foods and do not fall in a high-risk category for heart disease often are encouraged not to take preventive heart medications, as the side effects actually could increase their risk of complications, Patel said.
For patients who do have heart disease, “we’re doing a better job of managing it based on newer medicine,” he said. “We’re reducing statistically your chance of having issues.”
And, Patel added: “There are less smokers now than there were 10 years ago.”
With 659,041 fatalities in 2019, heart disease is the leading annual cause of death, according to the most recent CDC figures.