If you’ve just found out that you have coronary artery disease (CAD), you may feel stuck or overwhelmed with what to do next.
“We give general statements about lifestyle modification, and people understand that, but it’s overwhelming to be told to do all of this,” says Samit Shah, MD, PhD, interventional cardiologist at Yale Medicine in New York. Haven, CT.
So we asked two top cardiologists: what is the best advice they would give to their loved ones? Here are their four simplest tips:
Rely on your friends
People with coronary artery disease are two to three times more likely to experience depression than others. And those with coronary artery disease and depression tend to do worse than those with only coronary artery disease.
“People who are depressed are more likely to isolate themselves, which makes depression worse,” says Shah. “If you engage with others frequently, it can be a powerful buffer against depression. “
If you feel like your friends don’t understand what you’re going through, Shah suggests an online support group. “I’ve often found that even cardiac rehabilitation, which is traditionally done after a person has had a heart attack or undergone stent or bypass surgery, can be a great way for patients to connect,” explains Shah.
Never say diet
There is no doubt that what you eat is important in helping to prevent the progression of coronary artery disease. But focusing too much on a specific diet or diet can backfire.
“Of course, patients will lose weight initially when they start a diet, but if you don’t incorporate long-term behavior changes, it will eventually backfire,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, associate professor Cardiology clinic at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
A “diet” tends to be temporary and has strict rules. Instead, consider adopting new eating habits. For example, replace your late night snack with chips or cookies with healthier options, like nuts or fruit.
A study published in March 2021 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that each daily serving of ultra-processed foods, such as frozen meals, soda and fast food, increased the risk of developing heart disease by 5%.
“Soft drinks are among the biggest offenders. Even artificially sweetened foods have been shown to reset your brain so that you eat more because you are hungry, ”says Goldberg.
Make your new eating style a group effort, says Shah. “When the whole family is on board, it’s easier to cook heart-healthy meals and stock the pantry with low-sodium snacks instead of having a lot of tempting junk food around the house. “
Ease in exercise
Exercise is the key to any CAD management plan. But you don’t have to rush out and join a gym.
“I stress to patients that they will see real benefits if they only do moderate exercise like walking three to four times a week,” Shah said. “In fact, there is no evidence that very high intensity exercise will work better.”
Even yoga is a good option. Also consider your level of physical activity throughout the day instead of focusing on just one workout.
“When I talk to patients, I stress that when they go to the mailbox or sweep the floor in their kitchen, these are all things that count as exercise,” says Goldberg. “People underestimate how active they are and how easy it can be to add other activities.”
If you have coronary artery disease, smoking will only make it worse.
“When you have coronary artery disease, the arteries that carry blood to your heart muscle are already narrowed by plaque,” Shah explains. “Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that cause the blood to thicken and form clots, which in turn can cause a blockage that can lead to a heart attack.”
If you’ve ever tried and failed to quit smoking, Shah says you might be surprised at what new treatments might work well.
“A lot of people don’t realize that smoking cessation treatments have really improved over the past decade because there are other newer drugs like Chantix that they can take along with nicotine replacement therapy to reduce food cravings, ”Shah explains.
Talk to your doctor about your options, including whether you may need to be referred to a smoking cessation clinic.
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