Ask Dr. Pat · Health

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

February is American Heart Month. According to the American Heart Association, 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of 1 death every 38 seconds. And heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. WVFC joins with many other organizations this month to raise awareness about prevention and early detection of cardiovascular illness. Dr. Kirsten Healy,   in her third post this month, offers advice about how to maintain your heart health and discusses new information about that glass (or two) of red wine a day that many consider “good for the heart.”

Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen


In the United States, heart disease affects more that 9 million adults and is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women. More men and women die from heart disease than all cancers combined. But the good news is that research shows that up to 90 percent of heart disease can be prevented by changing one’s diet, exercising more and maintaining a healthy weight. Lifestyle changes are the cornerstone to a “heart healthy life.” As a cardiologist focusing on women’s health and the prevention of heart disease, I feel that teaching patients about their cardiovascular health is one of the most valuable contributions I can make toward successfully preventing the development of heart disease. Knowledge empowers patients so the first step to living a heart healthy life is to educate patients so they have the tools to make effective lifestyle changes. The following are seven things you can do to keep your heart beating strong for years to come.


1. Know Your Risk

There are non-modifiable risk factors, like age and family history, for developing cardiovascular disease that you can’t change but other risk factors can be treated and controlled. Modifiable risk factors, like high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, lack of regular activity, obesity and diabetes, can be controlled and treated. Screen for these modifiable risk factors at a young age.


2. Know Your Numbers

Knowing your numbers and understanding what they mean is important! This refers to understanding the key markers of heart health. The American Heart Association recommends that you be aware of five key numbers: Total cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol), blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). By keeping these numbers within a healthy range, you can greatly improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease.

Credit: American Heart Association


3. Eat Healthy

A heart healthy diet is one that is low in total fat, saturated fats and trans fats. All of these raise cholesterol levels.

Focus on a high fiber diet that contains nutrient-packed foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and legumes. Fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and helps you feel full so you are less likely to overeat.

Eat fish, like tuna or salmon, that are high in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week. There is a clear correlation between foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods lower blood cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

Limit sodium to less than 1,500 milligrams a day.

Limit alcohol consumption, because too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, cholesterol and caloric intake. I recommend that women limit alcohol consumption to one glass per day and abstain from any alcohol at least two days per week.

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