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Heart to Heart from Dr. James T. Willerson

February 1, 2012

Dear Friend of the Texas Heart Institute,

February has arrived – American Heart Month – and I think a useful way to kick it off is with the message below from my colleague, Dr. Stephanie Coulter, head of THI's Center for Women's Heart & Vascular Health.

Please, take it to heart.


5 Steps to Beat the Odds

Stephanie Coulter, MDIf you are a woman, your chances of dying from heart and vascular disease are nearly 1 in 2. February is American Heart Month, and Friday, Feb. 3rd is National Wear Red Day. It is a time when attention is focused on heart disease as the number one killer – of both men and womenin the United States.

My focus during Heart Month is very specific: while cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, at least 80% of it is preventable. This means you can take steps to change - and beat - your odds of dying from it, or having your quality of life ruined by it.

5 steps to beat the odds:

I like to keep it simple. There’s a lot of information out there, but there are five basic steps you can take to shift the odds into your favor.
  1. Know your numbers
  2. Follow doctor's orders
  3. Move more
  4. Tweak what you eat
  5. Quit smoking

Step 1 - Know your numbers

Understand and track your risk. Fill out our Know Your Numbers worksheet. You can use numbers from your last annual checkup (call your doctor’s office for this information if you do not have it). Or, set up your annual checkup now and take the worksheet with you. It will help both you and your doctor have a good understanding of your risk and what needs to be done to reduce it. With this information you can measure your progress as you take steps to change your odds.

Step 2 - Follow doctor's orders

Often patients come to me seeking help and then completely ignore the changes I recommend. If your doctor has prescribed medicine, take it!  If the medicine makes you feel bad, work with your doctor to figure out the right medicine at the right dose. If your doctor won’t work with you on this, change doctors! If your doctor has prescribed a special lifestyle regime such as a low-sodium diet, do it! No excuses!

Step 3 - Get a move on

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to change your odds. It lowers your blood pressure, increases your HDL (good) cholesterol, lowers your diabetes risk, can improve symptoms of depression and menopause, and lots more. Simple changes can make a huge difference.
  • Walk with a friend for 30 minutes during lunch or walk the dog after work.
  • If you can’t do it at one time, break your walk into 3 ten-minute walks a day.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible. 
  • Park your car further away when you run errands. 
  • Break up your workday by taking a 10-minute stroll around the office.
  • Swap family movie night with an afternoon at the park.
  • Find a physical activity you enjoy and do it!

Step 4 - Tweak what you eat

Make adjustments to the way you eat. Don’t crash diet. Simply make a few substitutions.
  • Cut your portions in half.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
  • Swap out regular dairy for low fat or fat-free, and swap out fatty meats for lean ones.
  • Eliminate junk food from your pantry.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Read food labels. Eliminate trans fats. Buy food with lower saturated fats.
  • Indulge yourself once a month with candy, cookies, chips or fast food.

Step 5 - Quit smoking

After one year of not smoking, you could reduce your risk of heart disease caused by your smoking by 80%, even if you’ve been a heavy smoker most of your life. Quit now! Your heart (and your loved ones) will thank you.

Lifestyle changes are not easy. I am here to tell you that you can do it – I know you can because I see my patients succeed. Use these steps and you will be well on your way not just to changing the odds, but to beating them!

Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for your quality of life.

For more detailed information on what you can do to beat the odds, visit THI’s heart healthy guide.

Until next time!
Stephanie Coulter, MD, Director of the Center for Women's Heart & Vascular Health
Stephanie Coulter, MD

I'll be wearing red on Friday so join me in making a commitment to yourself and your loved ones this month to learn all you can and to teach others about heart disease. Together we can save lives.

With great respect,

James T. Willerson signature


  James T. Willerson, MD
  President and Medical Director

Texas Heart Institute: Celebrating 50 Years of ExcellenceContact Dr. Willerson

Read previous issues of Heart to Heart in the archives.

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