November 29, 2022

Learn more heart health tips now and listen to our full conversation with Dr. Robert Lager of Medstar Cardiology.

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Here’s a startling statistic. While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a horrible toll, with more than 875,000 people in the U.S. dying, each year nearly as many people die of heart attacks and heart disease.

“Over 700,000 people per year die from heart disease,” said Dr. Robert Lager, Physician Lead at MedStar Cardiology. “It is as much an epidemic as COVID is a pandemic.”

During American Heart Month, WTOP is talking to MedStar cardiologists to share advice about how we can all be less likely to become a statistic.

The reality of heart disease is that many people are living with it — more than 18 million nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People don’t realize that many different forms of heart disease are really chronic problems that need to be managed, not cured,” Lager said.

He shares three ways that people can improve their quality of life while living with cardiovascular disease.

Tip 1: Don’t base what’s right for you on generalized data or information

“It’s very, very important to look at a person’s individual profile and to be as precise as possible about goals because we have different goals for different patients,” Lager said.

Yes, it’s important to know and track your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, your weight and heart rate. But what you find online won’t be of much help to how you should care for yourself, Lager said.

“To say that someone’s goal blood pressure should be 120 over 70 may be very important for somebody who has multiple risk factors for heart disease. But it might be the wrong number for someone, let’s say, who’s 90 and at risk for falls due to low blood pressure,” he said. “We really have to tailor the therapy for each patient. There is no one-size-fits-all.”

Tip 2: Build a relationship with your healthcare provider

If you are living with heart disease, cardiology doctors and clinicians will become part of your regular healthcare team. People need to find doctors that they are comfortable talking to and asking questions of, and generally like, Lager said.

“There’s just no substitute for that relationship between the patient and the doctor,” he said. “You have to trust your doctor. And therefore, you have to be able to feel comfortable discussing some things that may actually be challenging and emotionally difficult.”

Tip 3: The little things matter in living well despite your diagnosis

People often feel overwhelmed when they hear that they need to take medication, they need to lose weight, they need to exercise, they need to stop smoking.

What’s key, Lager says, “is you need to just start somewhere.” The little successes matter. Rather than think about losing 50 pounds, start with 5 for instance. Rather than tell yourself to begin an exercise regimen of working out for an hour every day, keep adding a few minutes to a lunchtime walk.

“Get some victories under your belt,” he advises.

“I’ve seen this over and over again in the years that I’ve been in practice: When people really start to get the momentum going, it really builds on itself. It really makes people feel like they can do it.”

Live a heart-healthy life: Tips for living with heart disease