Better Lifestyle Choices Can Lead to a Healthy Heart

February 02, 2022
Better Lifestyle Choices Can Lead to a Healthy Heart


Many people spend a lifetime investing money to ensure they have a comfortable retirement, which is important. Yet, many of the same people forget about an equally important investment – their health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. It affects more than thirty million adults in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and causes nearly 660,000 deaths each year. 

BayCare’s Kirksak Poonkasem, MD, who is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative medicine, believes if people will invest in their health, it is possible to change those statistics. 

“Investing in your health is just like any other investment plan. Some things may come easy, and others may be more difficult,” said Dr. Poonkasem. “Every effort is important and can make a difference.”

Some of the greatest known risk factors for heart disease are poor nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, excess weight, obesity, diabetes, stress, lack of sleep and excessive alcohol use. 

“Poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and smoking comprise about 80 percent of premature deaths in the United States,” Dr. Poonkasem said. 

Those are risk factors that can be eliminated, but as most people will attest it is not always easy. Dr. Poonkasem recommends making incremental or small changes and building on those. For example, if someone sits at a desk all day and does not work out, that person may start with a 5-minute walk at lunch or after work and gradually build up to at least 30-minutes a day. Physical activity does not have to be complicated.

When it comes to nutrition, Dr. Poonkasem warns against both fad diets and overly processed food. “Research tells us if we increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and more whole food type products and eat fewer red meats and processed meats, it’s going to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, morbidity and mortality in general,” he said.

In addition to the physical investments involved in a healthy lifestyle change, Dr. Poonkasem advocates for investing in positive mental health changes and sleep. “We live in a stressful society, and how someone’s body responds to the stress may trigger responses that are harmful to the heart” he said. 

Many people need to invest in training their bodies how to respond to the stress. Dr. Poonkasem recommends conscious breathing exercises to calm the body. He uses the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This requires placing the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth while inhaling through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, exhaling through the mouth for a count of eight and repeating these steps four times. Conscious breathing must be done consistently to be effective in reducing stress. Dr. Poonkasem recommends once or twice a day.

One of the most overlooked investments in health is adequate sleep. People have too many things to do in a 24-hour day, and sleep is typically the first to go. Sleep is important for many reasons. It recharges the mind and body, which is beneficial in improving memory and concentration and optimizing the immune system. Poor quality of sleep or lack of sleep increases the risk for hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Dr. Poonkasem typically recommends a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep for adults.

The final investments Dr. Poonkasem encourages people to make are to have regular checkups with a primary care physician and to know their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Regular physicals give physicians the opportunity to get to know the patient and note anything out of the ordinary, while high cholesterol and blood pressure have a negative impact on health but can be controlled if the information is known.

“Lifestyle modification is worth the investment,” Dr. Poonkasem advises. “It gives individuals the best possible chance of living a long and healthy life with enjoyment.”

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