When it comes to the health of your heart, what can you control? Almost— almost—everything. “Heart disease is
multifaceted. There are many things you can do to eradicate it except for the genetic component,” says Rebecca McFarland, M.D. “Most cardiac issues are related to our lifestyle.”
Dr. McFarland is a cardiologist with Baptist Health Medical Group Cardiology in Louisville. She works with patients who have coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, congestive heart failure, and cardiomyopathy, and her practice also involves the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease.
Prevention means taking good care of yourself by not smoking. And by maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy foods (protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), exercising, hydrating, watching sodium intake, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, seeking treatment for sleep apnea if necessary, and managing stress.
“Stress is a part of life. It’s not something you can get rid of,” says Dr. McFarland. “It is important you know what helps you relieve stress.”
For some people, exercise is a good stress reliever. For others, stress can be managed or relieved by staying connected with a community of family and friends. Prayer, meditation, relationships, hobbies, solitude—there are quite a few different ways to manage stress, so knowing what works for you is key. “Recognize that stress in your life does have physical consequences, and some are cardiac,” says Dr. McFarland. “I do think, no matter how difficult circumstances are, it’s important to have something in your life you rejuvenate with.”
What’s a healthy action or practice you enjoy? What drives you? What brings life into you? “It looks a little different for each person,” she says. “Stepping back and evaluating what's meaningful in your life is important.”
The medical statistics for cardiovascular mortality for 2020 are likely slightly worse than in the past, in part due to the COVID-19 virus itself “and to the fact, people are not seeking medical attention they need in a health care setting for fear of getting COVID,” says Dr. McFarland. More fast food and takeout, as well as less exercise, also contributed to this confluence of factors have made it more difficult for heart specialists like Dr. McFarland to continue educating people on the importance of keeping up a healthy lifestyle.
“I personally would love it if somebody put me out of a job,” she says. “I love what I do, but the less we have to do for patients with stents, bypass, the better.”
She and her colleagues want their patients to live long, healthy lives and enjoy everyone and everything around them. “That's ultimately what we want. If I could get you better and not use any medication, that would be the greatest. That's what the health care community wants,” she says. “We're all hopeful, after a super rough year for people, to get back to the enjoyment of life.”