The secular New Year is an opportunity to start fresh and refocus on well-being, beginning with heart health. Dr. Joseph Shatzkes, a board-certified cardiologist who focuses on general cardiology and prevention, shares some wisdom on a good start for your heart in 2018.
What advice can you give about making resolutions?
Set realistic goals. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Make changes you can continue lifelong.
What first steps do you recommend?
#1 Exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week. It can be as simple as going for a brisk walk. I tell my dad, “Get off the subway a stop earlier. Walk the extra 10 blocks.” Getting your heart rate up is a good place to start.
#2 See an internist. Find a doctor with whom you have a good relationship.
#3 Look at your own personal risk factors. If you have a sibling or parent who had cardiovascular disease, come in for an evaluation. Modifying risk factors can be very important.
What are your top tips for the New Year?
Diet. The holidays and winter are tough. Focus on goals and practice moderation.
Quit soda. Quit drinking soda—even diet. You’ll lose weight, and this is a springboard to a healthier lifestyle.
Don’t eat late at night. Your evening should never end with food. Doing something active after dinner can make a difference. My family goes for a “moonlight walk” around the neighborhood after our meal.
Lower your carbs. One thing you can do easily is reduce your carbohydrate intake. Eat more protein.
Limit salt. If you have borderline high blood pressure, limit your salt intake. This doesn’t mean you have to cut it out completely, but start reading labels and become aware of how much salt is in your food.
Exercise. Exercise helps lower your blood pressure and increases energy. It can reduce the number and dosage of medications you need to take.
Quit smoking. Most of the people we see with heart disease in their 40s are smokers. If you smoke, your New Year’s resolution should be to quit yesterday.
Get support. I’m a big fan of ancillary practitioners, such as nutritionists and personal trainers. They are good resources, especially for heart patients.
Be a “cheater.” Whether it’s improving your diet, exercising every day, or reducing your stress, focus on doing that thing most of the time. Being a cheater means you’ve quit something and you cheat only occasionally.
How do you incorporate heart healthy practices into your own life?
I’m at the gym at 6 a.m. several mornings a week. I limit my snacking and stick to healthy options like fruit and nuts. A decade ago, I gave up soda. If I need to get moving, I ask my wife if she needs anything at the store and I’ll run an errand. I try to do something other than just sit.
I’m also a big sports fan. I often exercise while watching my teams. During the Sunday football game, I go for a walk at halftime so I don’t spend three hours sitting on the couch.
If someone has worrisome symptoms, how do you encourage that person to address them now?
As doctors, sometimes what we do is rule things out and reassure patients. Addressing something early is better than waiting. Early action can prevent so much down the road. Never be afraid to come in.
What about people who are afraid to go to the doctor?
It doesn’t have be a cold experience. In my practice, we try to be super friendly. I get to know my patients as people—their families, their interests. I like seeing them in the community. For me, there is no greater joy than caring for my neighbors. People know they can rely on me to take care of their health. That’s why I became a doctor.
What makes Englewood Hospital so special?
Patients at Englewood Hospital get the loving care of a community hospital without compromising the expertise or technology. Our interventional cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons are superb. They perform advanced procedures, such as TAVR, that are often found only at academic medical centers, with outstanding results. In our practice, the patient comes first. We make it a priority to be available and accommodating.
Now is the time for resolving to better care for your heart.
By Dr. Joseph Shatzkes
Joseph Shatzkes, MD, is a cardiologist with Englewood Cardiology Consultants in Englewood, part of MDPartners, the physician network of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.