Maintaining a strong and healthy heart is crucial to avoiding heart disease later on in life, but unfortunately living a healthy lifestyle is often overlooked in today's fast paced world.
"Our culture is leading us all to a higher chance of coronary heart disease," said Barb Foster, cardiac rehab nurse with the Memorial Health System. "People are exercising less and weighing more than they ever have before and that puts a lot of pressure on the heart."
She works daily with patients that are recovering from cardiac issues and knows the struggles they face.
"Once you have a cardiac episode you will always have a higher risk of having another episode," Foster said.
Mark Neyman, 72, a patient of the cardiac rehab program at Heartland of Marietta now faces those risks.
Neyman recently had open heart surgery due to a heart attack he suffered on New Year's Eve.
"This was the first time I've had any trouble with my heart," he said. "I always considered my lifestyle to be reasonably sedentary."
He has had little time or desire to be sedentary since he started his rehabilitation.
"I was amazed at how much muscle tone I lost after three weeks of recovery," he said. "I'm working my way back into shape slowly but I don't know how long it will be until I'm well enough to leave."
One thing Neyman said he is sure of is that he will be leading a more active and healthy lifestyle after this.
"I'll be improving my diet and exercise habits," he said. "I don't want this to happen again so I'm going to work hard at preventing it."
Foster and other cardiac rehab nurses work hard to educate patients on how they can avoid future cardiac issues.
"Identifying what the risk factors are going to be and keeping them out of your life is how people can help themselves," she said. "Common risk factors for cardiac issues include smoking, hypertension, excess weight, diabetes and lack of physical exercise."
Lately Foster said she has noticed an increase in the number of younger people having issues with their hearts.
"Lack of exercise and excess fat puts tremendous strain on the heart," she said. "No matter what your age you should try to eat healthy and maintain an active lifestyle."
The best way to improve cardiac function is to train your heart like any other muscle, Foster said.
"The American Heart Association recommends you get 30 to 60 minutes a day of aerobic exercise a day," she said. "Even simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help strengthen your heart."
Aerobic exercises are the most beneficial to improving heart health. It can help decrease a person's heart rate and blood pressure over a period of time. Examples of aerobic exercise include running, walking and biking. The pace that these activities are performed and the amount performed should be determined by the individual and his or her doctor.
"Just imagine how much harder your heart has to work if you carry 30 extra pounds of weight around all the time," Foster said."Any excess fat we have, even if it's just a few pounds, is going to affect the strain put on our heart."
A heart healthy diet includes foods that are low in sodium, sugar, saturated and trans fats.
Foods such as fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, and are beneficial toward having a healthy heart, since fiber is linked to the prevention of both heart disease and diabetes. Foods that are high in fiber also take longer to digest, which can help prevent overeating and unnecessary weight gain.
A combination of a clean diet and staying active also helps prevent blood clots, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks.
"When you're exercising and eating right, you are building collateral circulation," Foster said "That way in case you do have a blockage, your body has already built little detours."
Foster doesn't expect anyone to drastically alter their lifestyle instantly, but she does urge that people take steps to improve their cardiac health.
"The best advice I can give anyone is to set goals for yourself that are attainable," she said. "Do what you can until you are comfortable increasing the load, because every little bit is going to reduce your risk of cardiac problems in the future."